Research shows that gut bacteria tells their hosts what to eat

New research part-supported by the EU-funded FLIACT project has shown that gut bacteria ‘speak’ to the brain to control food choices, identifying two specific species of bacteria that have an impact on animal dietary decisions.

What we eat influences the balance of microbes in our digestive tracts. We may choose a BLT sandwich for lunch or go for something dairy-based, and this decision can increase the numbers of some bacteria in our guts and reduce the populations of others. As their relative numbers change, they secrete different substances, activate different genes and absorb different nutrients.

Now, in a paper published in the Opean Access journal ‘PLOS Biology’, neuroscientists have found that specific types of gut flora help a host animal detect which nutrients are missing in food and then finely titrate how much of those nutrients the host really needs to eat. ‘What the bacteria do for appetite is kind of like optimizing how long a car can run without needing to add more petrol to the tank,’ commented senior author Carlos Ribeiro.

The team conducted experiments using the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, a model organism that allowed the scientists to dissect the complex interaction of diet and microbes and its effect on food preference. First, they fed one group of flies a sucrose solution containing all the necessary amino acids. Another group got a mix that had some of the amino acids needed to make protein but lacked essential amino acids that the host cannot synthesize by itself. For a final third group of flies, the scientists removed essential amino acids from the food one-by-one to determine which was being detected by the microbiome.

After 72 hours on the various diets, flies in all three groups were presented with a buffet offering their usual sugary solution alongside protein-rich yeast. The results initially showed that flies deprived of amino acids showed decreased fertility and increased preference…

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