Human gut microbiota and bifidobacteria: from composition to functionality
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The human gut is the home of an estimated 1018 bacterial cells, many of which are uncharacterized or unculturable. Novel culture-independent approaches have revealed that the majority of the human gut microbiota consists of members of the phyla Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes. Nevertheless the role of bifidobacteria in gut ecology illustrates the importance of Actinomycetes and other Actinobacteria that may be underestimated. The human gut microbiota represents an extremely complex microbial community the collective genome of which, the microbiome, encodes functions that are believed to have a significant impact on human physiology. The microbiome is assumed to significantly enhance the metabolism of amino and glycan acids, the turnover of xenobiotics, methanogenesis and the biosynthesis of vitamins. Co-colonisation of the gut commensals Bifidobacterium longum and Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron in a murine model system revealed that the presence of bifidobacteria induced an expansion in the diversity of polysaccharides targeted for degradation by Bacteroides and also induced host genes involved in innate immunity. In addition, comparative analysis of individual human gut microbiomes has revealed various strategies that the microbiota use to adapt to the intestinal environment while also pointing to the existence of a distinct infant and adult-type microbiota.
KeywordsMicrobiota Microbiome Genomics Bifidobacteria
This work was financially supported by the Science Foundation Ireland under the Irish National Development Plan through a CSET award, through the Italian Award for Outstanding Young Researcher scheme “Incentivazione alla mobilita’ di studiosi stranieri e italiani residenti all’estero”, and by a Marie Curie Reintegration Grant (MERG-CT-2005-03080) to MV.
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