In a review published today in Nature Biotechnology, researchers describe how microbes in the gut form the second largest metabolic 'organ' in the body and play a key role in disease processes alongside genetic and environmental factors.
Microbes in the gut can weigh up to one kilogram in a normal adult human, and collectively can contain more genes than the host. The combination of interacting genes from the body and gut microbes can be considered a 'super-organism', capable of co-ordinating many physiological and metabolic responses, say the researchers.
Professor Jeremy Nicholson, from Imperial College London, and lead researcher comments: "We have known for some time that many diseases are influenced by a variety of factors, including both genetics and environment, but the concept of this 'superorganism' could have a huge impact on our understanding of disease processes including those related to insulin-resistance, heart disease, some cancers and perhaps even some neurological diseases".
"The discovery of how microbes in the gut can influence the body's responses to disease means that we now need more research into this area. The deciphering of the human genome was a huge step forward for medicine, but we now need much more research into the microbes found in the gut and how they interact with their mammalian hosts' metabolism. Understanding these interactions as will extend human biology and medicine well beyond the human genome and help elucidate novel types of gene-environment interactions, this knowledge ultimately leading to new approaches to the treatment of disease. "
Professor Ian Wilson, from Astra Zeneca, and one of the researchers adds: "This 'human super-organism' concept could have a huge imp
Contact: Tony Stephenson
Imperial College London