Every second of every day, tens of thousands of microbes swim around your gut. While the idea of an intestinal ecosystem might sound unappealing, they’re responsible for a variety of important life functions and are critical to good health. Despite its importance, little has been understood about the microbiome – until now.
A breakthrough study by Australia's Hudson Institute studied fecal samples from 20 people in the U.K. and Canada. Results identified a total of 273 species of bacteria, of which 105 were completely unknown previously. Another 68 species had never been sequenced before to determine their DNA pattern.
The number of bacteria species living in humans can range as high as 5,000, says Dr. Samuel Forster, one of the study’s authors. He believes each person only hosts around 200 types. Some of these are specific to region or diet, while others are shared across most of humanity.
If our microbiome plays such a critical role in our health, then why do we know so little about it? Dr. Forster has found that bacteria are extremely difficult to culture. While microbes may flourish inside of the body, outside of it is a different story. Outside of the gut, bacteria feeds on the byproducts of other microbes, not on food in our intestines. Outside of the body, Dr. Forster finds it difficult to create the same gut bacteria environment. He says it’s like replicating the diversity of a rainforest from scratch.
This scientific breakthrough in bacterial species identification has led to the creation of the largest and most comprehensive public database of human health-associated intestinal bacteria. Researchers hope this new information helps us understand more about gut health and the connection between the gut and the brain.