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article imageModified bacteria protect against obesity

By Tim Sandle     Sep 4, 2016 in Science
Introducing genetically modified bacteria into the intestines of mice appears to protect the rodents from obesity. This could become a treatment option for people.
The human microbiome refers to the collection of microorganisms and their genetic interactions. The microbiome is typically divided into niches, such as the gut microbiome. Research from the Human Microbiome Project and follow-on studies indicates how the composition of the microbiome influences health and disease. For instance, the types of microorganisms that colonize the gut can influence metabolic disorders, including obesity.
New research has shown how variations with the gut microbiota, such as having a predominance of beneficial bacteria, can help to create conditions that lower a mammal’s susceptibility to obesity.
In a study, led by Professor Sean Davies, from Vanderbilt University, researchers have shown how the beneficial effect can be enhanced through the addition of modified bacteria.
With the study, the researchers engineered bacteria that produce a small lipid known to suppress appetite and lower inflammation. This lipid is found in lower levels in people with obesity, and without this appetite suppressant there is a tendency for overweight people to eat too much because they are not easily sated.
The modified bacteria were introduced to the mice via drinking water. Mice that were fed the modified bacteria were compared with a control group, and both sets were high fat diets. Body weight was recorded throughout the study. The mice were prone to develop atherosclerosis and fatty liver disease; with the results, the mice fed the modified bacteria showed lower weight gain and did not develop into an obese weight.
By restoring levels of the lipid to the norm, the researchers think this will restore appetite to a more typical level and reduce obesity. In those who are overweight but not yet with a body mass index that would be classed as ‘obese’, the restoration of the lipid levels could prevent the physiological condition progressing to the obese stage. There would also, in theory, be a reduction in inflammation (and the metabolic imbalances that this causes).
Of course what happens in mice does not necessarily translate into what may happen to people. In addition, there are many other lifestyle changes that those with obesity should be undertaking, including alternations to diet and taking more exercise. Nonetheless, the results of the study are significant enough for the research to continue and with the longer-term aim of human trials.
The new research has recently been presented at the American Physiological Society’s conference Inflammation, Immunity and Cardiovascular Disease.
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