Dr Nathalie Juge of the UK Institute of Food Research (IFR) has received just under £490,000 in order to try and work out how the beneficial bacteria in our guts break down insoluble dietary carbohydrate and host glycans at the molecular level.
The work forms part of a larger project to be led by Professor Harry Flint of the Rowett Institute of Nutrition & Health, and is funded by the BBSRC.
This new project will focus 'keystone' bacterial species of our microbiota, and use genomic based techniques to better understand exactly how they work and interact both with our own bodies and the other microbes.
The findings from the work, could offer a better understanding of the overall role the gut microbiome has in maintaining our health, and perhaps even insights into how it can be manipulated to combat gut diseases, said the IFR.
Our gut bacteria are known to aid in the digestion of otherwise non-digestible foods, and so release energy and nutrients which support themselves bacteria but also benefit us as we get about 10% of our energy through this mechanism.
This ability to breakdown this material lies with just a few of the hundreds of bacterial species that make up the gut microbiome, the team noted. The other bacteria rely on these ‘keystone’ species to release energy, just as do we.
Understanding the mechanisms of this breakdown of non-digestible compounds is therefore fundamental to understanding the impact of diet upon health, and for developing approaches to manipulate the gut microbiota for health benefit, said the IFR.
However, until now almost all of the detailed work on glycan metabolism by the human gut microbiota has focussed on gram-negative Bacteroides - while there is very little information on the equally numerous gram-positive bacteria belonging to the Firmicutes phylum.
"Recent evidence indicates however that it is certain Firmicutes, especially Ruminococcus spp., that play ‘keystone’ roles in initiating the degradation of insoluble substrates, whereas human colonic Bacteroides spp. tend to favour soluble carbohydrates."
"This research will investigate for the first time the molecular mechanisms that enable human colonic species of Ruminococcus to degrade particulate resistant starch , cereal bran rich in plant cell wall polysaccharides and insoluble mucin."