A veritable jungle of organisms is helping keep each of us alive. But we’ve been rather negligent hosts. For starters, we don’t even know who has shown up for the party.
When I signed myself, my husband, our dog and my mother up for the American Gut Project to have our gut microbes analyzed last year, I had no idea what the results would turn up. And based on current research even Rob Knight, who helps run the project, couldn’t predict whether I would share more microbes with my mom or with my husband.
My gut is full of different species of Firmicutes, a whole phylum of bacteria. These can be incredibly diverse and include those in the order Lactobacillales (familiar to many from its member Lactobacillus, one kind of the bacteria that’s active in some yogurts). I had many more of these bacteria than the average person, which was surprising. They’ve been linked to obesity, and I’ve always been lean.
The second most common were Bacteroidetes species (primarily in the Bacteroidesgenus), which help us mammals digest food. These guys indicate, according to a 2011 study in Science that Knight co-authored, that my diet is heavier on animal proteins and fats than on carbohydrates.
I didn’t expect that because at the time I, um, collected the samples I was eating a mostly plant-based diet. But perhaps the occasional pulled-pork sandwich or milkshake was enough to sway my bacterial profile. Although a different diet could change a person’s microbe makeup within 24 hours, even a week on a different diet didn’t entirely alter the profiles from long-term dietary patterns, the same study said.
So maybe my relative levels were due to my generally meat-and-potatoes upbringing — or my birth by cesarean section. Research published last year found that infants born by C-section had lower levels of Bacteroides (as I had) than did babies born vaginally.
Read full, original article: At Last, I Meet My Microbes