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Your Gut Bacteria As Important As Blood Type?

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First there was blood type, then tissue type, and now researchers have discovered that people can be grouped into three different gut bacteria types. These findings, published in the journal, Nature, could change the way that doctors treat patients with medications and diet.

You Are What's Inside Your Gut

Gut bacteria, or intestinal bacteria flora, are the tiny microorganisms which live inside the digestive tract of human beings. The gut bacteria is responsible for digestion, production of essential nutrients and vitamins, protecting the intestines against harmful microbes and carcinogens, and stimulating the body's natural immune system to fight against disease.

In a large research study, scientists at the University of Copenhagen examined samples of intestinal bacteria flora of individuals from four different countries including Denmark, France, Italy and Spain combined with existing relevant data from individuals from Japan and the United States to determine if there were any similarities or patterns.

What the scientists found was that there were three distinct clusters, scientifically referred to as enterotypes, of gut bacteria which are characterized by a specific balance between the different types of microorganisms present. Even more remarkable was that these three enterotype were not influenced by nationality, gender, age, continent location, or diet. This means that an individuals enterotype may be as identifying and significant as a blood type or tissue type.

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"Our results show that we may have uncovered a new 'biological fingerprint,'” says Professor Oluf Borbye Pedersen, professor at Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolism Research and lead investigator on the present study. “The three enterotypes occur across nationalities and are independent of gender and age. Every enterotype has a certain composition of bacteria that have specific functions, for example energy production from degradation of dietary fibres or formation of certain vitamins.”

The gut bacteria is largely responsible for the way that medications and nutrients are absorbed and processed by the body – partially explaining why one individual may respond well to a treatment or therapy while another may not. Identifying an individuals enterotype may be the key to targeted therapies based upon the way that the gut is likely to respond.

"The discovery of enterotypes is expected to influence future research within a number of fields," says Pedersen. “This may potentially affect a number of biological functions – discoveries which at a later stage may be translated into individual diet advice or design of drugs that are adapted to the individual enterotype.”

The researchers also believe that future research and study will likely add more gut bacteria clusters into each group and perhaps more enterotypes will be formed. The present study does not identify how these clusters affect an individual with each specific type.

Resource: Enterotypes of the human gut microbiome, Nature (2011) doi:10.1038/nature09944, Published online 20 April 2011
Image Source: Wikicommons