One of the beneficial gut bacteria in the human gut that ordinarily cannot thrive in an oxygen-rich environment can now be made oxygen-tolerant. This is an important result in developing future probiotic treatments to enhance glucose management in people with prediabetes.
Trillions of bacteria, known as the gut microbiota, live in the intestines and are crucial for processes including food digestion and immune system development. It has been clarified over the past ten years that changes in bacterial composition can be connected to an assortment of diseases.
The next generation of probiotics, or live bacteria products, which can replace the missing bacteria in those more likely to contract diseases, have received much attention. The majority of bacteria are completely anaerobic; thus, it has been difficult to overcome their sensitivity to oxygen.
It has proven difficult to create live bacterial cultures of extremely oxygen-sensitive bacteria because they die only seconds after coming into contact with airborne oxygen.
A Naturally Occurring Symbiosis
Researchers from the University of Gothenburg and the probiotic company BioGaia AB describe how they overcame the oxygen sensitivity of an anti-inflammatory gut bacterium, Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, which is significantly reduced in conditions such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, in a study published in the journal Nature.
Faecalibacterium prausnitzii was identified in their investigation together with another bacterium, Desulfovibrio piger, which has favorable effects on Faecalibacterium prausnitzii growth and function. The researchers identified more oxygen-tolerant Faecalibacterium prausnitzii by “training” the oxygen-sensitive bacteria in a favorable electrochemical environment.
By combining a naturally occurring symbiosis with “training” of the bacteria, we have established a new strategy for producing otherwise oxygen-sensitive bacteria as live biotherapeutic products, which could prevent diseases when these bacteria are reduced in number.
Fredrik Bäckhed, Professor, University of Gothenburg
Studying the Impact on Sugar Control
Muhammad Tanweer Khan, a researcher on Professor Bäckhed’s team who previously identified this symbiosis, is the study’s first author. He also represents BioGaia AB, a probiotic firm that assisted in developing the bacteria for the suggested nutritional supplement.
When these bacteria were grown together, both the biomass – in other words, the number of bacteria—and the production of butyrate—which has an anti-inflammatory effect—increased. This will enable us to increase the production yield, and to potentially increase butyrate production in the future.
Muhammad Tanweer Khan, Study First Author and Researcher, University of Gothenburg
The study concludes that the bacteria mixture is safe for human ingestion. The next stage will be research to see how supplementing with these bacteria affects sugar management in those with prediabetes.
Bäckhed concluded, “We have high hopes. Further studies will show if we are correct in our hypothesis that gut bacteria have the potential to improve our health.”
Khan, M. T., et al. (2023). Synergy and oxygen adaptation for development of next-generation probiotics. Nature. doi.org/10.1038/s41586-023-06378-w