Microbes Compete for Nutrients, Affect Metabolism & Development in Mice

"Gut bacteria get to use a lot of our food before we do," says Dr. Federico Rey, a Professor of Bacteriology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Then we get their leftovers -- or their waste. The problem, says Dr. Rey, is that if our microbiome overindulges, we might not have access to the nutrients we need. That's the suggestion from new research conducted by Dr. Rey's group that shows mice that harbor high levels of microbes that eat choline are deprived of this essential nutrient. Compared to mice without choline-hungry bacteria, the choline-starved mice had an increased susceptibility to metabolic diseases and gave birth to pups with biochemical alterations in the brain and that exhibited more anxious behaviors. The study was published online on July 31, 2017 in Cell Host & Microbe. UW-Madison Professor of Bacteriology Daniel Amador-Noguez and researchers from Harvard University also contributed to the work. The article is titled “Metabolic , Epigenetic, and Transgenerational Effects of Gut Bacterial Choline Consumption.” Epigenetic regulation -- the decorating of genes with chemical groups that control how much they are expressed -- appears to underlie the effects of gut bacteria that consume too much choline. Choline contributes to the pool of resources that cells use to make these modifications to DNA, and with less choline available, the cell's ability to modify and regulate genes can be impaired. Tissues from the liver to the brain had altered epigenetic patterns in mice with high levels of choline-eating microbes. "Epigenetic modifications change how genes are expressed," explains Kym Romano, a graduate student in Dr. Rey's group and one of the lead authors of the new research.
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