What drives bacterial strain diversity in the gut? Although there are a number of possible explanations, an opinion piece published on March 22, 2017 in Trends in Microbiology by Dr. Pauline Scanlan, a Royal Society – Science Foundation Ireland Research Fellow at the APC Microbiome Institute, University College Cork, Ireland, addresses one potentially important and overlooked aspect of this unresolved question. Dr. Scanlan’s article is titled “Bacteria–Bacteriophage Coevolution in the Human Gut: Implications for Microbial Diversity and Functionality.” The human gut is host to an incredible diversity of microbes collectively known as the gut microbiome. Our gut microbiomes interact with us, their human hosts, to perform a myriad of crucial functions ranging from digestion of food to protection against pathogens. While superficially it may seem that the microbes inhabiting the human gut are stable and broadly similar between individuals, recent advances in sequencing technology that allow for high-level resolution investigations have shown that our gut microbiomes are dynamic, capable of rapid evolution, and unique to each individual in terms of bacterial species and strain diversity. This unique inter-individual variation is of crucial importance as we know that differences in bacterial strain diversity within species can have a range of positive or negative consequences for the human host – for example, some strains of a given bacteria are harmless while another strain of the same bacterial species could kill you. A classic example of this is different strains of the gut bacterium Escherichia coli - E. coli Nissle 1917 is used as a probiotic and E. coli O157:H7 has been responsible for a number of deadly food-borne pathogen outbreaks.
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