In 2003, the human genome project found the sequence of all of our 3 billion base pairs of DNA. In 2008, a new, extended study began in order to discover the DNA contained within the 30 to 50 trillion beneficial bacteria cells that reside within our body. These bacteria significantly outnumber our own cells and make up 3% of our body mass. This microbiome project is investigating the over 1,000 genes that our bacterial inhabitants contribute to our body’s functionality.
So what is a gene and why are scientists so interested in sequencing them? Genes are bits of DNA that code for proteins, and proteins facilitate every single chemical reaction in our body. Think of DNA as instructions on how to build something. By themselves they are just letters. It is only when interpreted that they become functional. Bacterial instructions are simple and would be akin to “how to build Jenga blocks or a Lego cube”. Human instructions, in contrast, are infinitely more complicated and would be akin to “how to build the Empire state building”. The four letters of DNA are indeed conserved across all organisms, but as you can see, their “words”, “reading level”, and sheer numerical differences result in life’s diversity.
Even though bacteria are so much simpler than humans, they contain genes that we do not. The microbiome in our body includes a whopping 3.3 million total genes. This is surprising due to their simplicity, however it is a collective number that includes hundreds, and possibly even thousands, of bacterial species.
Bacterial cells have taken up residence in our intestine because it benefits them by giving them easy access to food. It is not an altruistic motive by any means, but it works for us by facilitating digestion as well as overall health. They provide the following actions that we are incapable of doing on our own, such as:
- Absorbing excess nutrients so that harmful bacteria can’t consume them and survive
- Establishing intestinal residence that blocks harmful bacteria from attaching instead
- Producing vitamin K which is important for bone metabolism and blood clotting
- Producing B vitamins that are important for blood formation and energy
- Boosting the immune system
- Contributing to neutralizing acidity in the colon, protecting our cells from damage
None of these effects would exist without the ability of the gut flora to degrade almost half of the indigestible fiber and other carbohydrates we consume such as cellulose and lactose. Because our bacterial friends degrade these carbohydrates, we are able to absorb them and reap their nutritional benefits. Studies show that our modern diet of processed foods, artificially modified foods, and fast foods is drastically reducing the diversity of the microbiome and allowing pathogenic bacteria to establish residence. Studies also show that these disruptions are contributing to obesity and intestinal problems such as Chron’s disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
It is important to maintain a healthy microbiome, and one way to do it is to increase consumption of healthy fiber and reduce consumption of processed food and artificial ingredients. Another way to increase digestive health is to supplement your diet with a prebiotic/probiotic regime. Go to any pharmacy and you will find prebiotics and probiotics that only contain bacterial cultures. Our product expands upon the business model of the traditional supplement industry. Our innovative research developed ways to ease digestive symptoms by increasing bacteria’s genetic impact. In addition to our products’ customized blend of safe and natural ingredients and essential vitamins, our products address the cause of the symptoms. They boost protein functionality.
Kelly Daescu, MS
Sources Accessed July 13, 2016