Scientists find new way to improve gut health

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In a significant advancement in probiotic research, scientists have pinpointed specific genes in the probiotic Bifidobacteria longum that play a crucial role in enhancing gut motility.

The findings, published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe on November 21, highlight the abfA gene cluster’s ability to improve digestion by efficiently utilizing a type of indigestible fiber called arabinan.

Constipation Relief through Probiotic Intervention

Constipation, affecting 10% to 15% of the global population, often links to an imbalance in gut microbiota. This imbalance results in a decrease in beneficial microorganisms, commonly known as probiotics.

The administration of probiotics has been a common approach to alleviate constipation symptoms.

However, the effectiveness of probiotics can vary significantly among different strains within the same species, making it challenging for healthcare professionals and patients to choose the most effective probiotic.

The abfA Gene Cluster: A Critical Discovery

The research team, led by Qixiao Zhai of Jiangnan University, Jiachao Zhang of Hainan University, and Shi Huang of the University of Hong Kong, focused on understanding the genetic factors of probiotics that influence gastrointestinal motility.

They isolated 185 B. longum strains from a diverse Chinese population and identified the abfA gene cluster as a key factor in constipation relief.

Mechanism of Action: Utilizing Plant Polysaccharides

The abfA gene cluster enhances the probiotic’s ability to utilize arabinan, a component of plant polysaccharides and a fiber source that is typically indigestible for humans and inaccessible to normal gut microbes. This process plays a crucial role in improving gut motility.

Clinical Trial and Experimental Validation

The team’s research included a clinical trial and a human-to-mouse fecal microbiota transplantation experiment, supplemented by metagenomic and metabolomic analyses.

The trial showed that B. longum strains with the abfA gene cluster, but not those lacking it, enriched arabinan-utilization in the gut, increased beneficial metabolites, and effectively improved constipation symptoms.

Implications for Human Health

The abundance of the abfA gene cluster in the fecal microbiomes is a potential predictor of constipation. Transplanting microbiota enriched with this gene cluster improved gut motility in constipated mice, suggesting its broader relevance in human health.

The prevalence of the abfA gene/cluster in gut residents underscores its potential as a therapeutic target for constipation and possibly other gastrointestinal diseases.

If you care about gut health, please read studies about how junk food harms your gut health,  and how probiotics can protect gut health.

For more information about health, please see recent studies about how fiber affects weight loss and your overall health, and results showing why a glass of red wine is good for your gut.

The research findings can be found in Cell Host & Microbe.

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