Microbiome, Diet and Health

What is microbiome?  The human microbiome is the full complement of microbes, their genes and genomes in or on the human body.  Microbiome research is considered an emerging science and some progress has been made in understanding how microbial communities impact human health and disease.  The human gut harbors more than 100 trillion bacteria defined as the gut microbiota.  Other organisms such as archaea, parasites, or fungi also contribute to the gut microbiota.  The combined metagenome of the microbial community is remarkably greater than the human genome.  Although, there is significant inter-individual variation in the human gut bacterial composition, there are several bacterial taxa present in majority of the population (IOM report 2013; Jeffery & Toole, 2013; Latulippe et al., 2013). 

Recent advances in massively parallel sequencing technologies allow for characterization of the human microbome and to study the effect of environmental factors on the microbiome. There are many factors that influence the structure and function of the gut microbiome including host genetics, immune system, use of antibiotics, age, health, and additional environmental factors. Host diet is emerging as one of the most important parameters as it contributes to the main source of energy for the gut microbiota and may be the easiest to manipulate with fewer potential side effects (Latulippe et al., 2013; Moschen et al., 2012).  Our web-based content on microbiome is intended to provide information on the relationship between human gut microbiota, diet and health to scientist, academicians, practitioners, industry and consumers.  

Diet is known to have early and important effects on the composition and activity of the microorganisms in the human gut. This is reflected in the often observed enrichment of beneficial bifidobacteria in the breastfed infant gut (Sela & Mills, 2010). Studies both in animals and humans show that the gut microbiota varies depending upon the diet (e.g. macro and micronutrient content, vegetarian, lacto-vegetarian, high protein diet, high fat diet) (Latulippe et al., 2013; Moschen et al., 2012).  The intestinal microbiota contributes to host gut health by fermenting indigestible substrates to release energy, preventing growth of harmful bacteria, synthesizing certain vitamins, and assisting the host in immune maturation.  In contrast, dysbiosis or the disruption of normal microbial balance has been associated with obesity, malnutrition, inflammatory bowel disease, among other illnesses. There is growing evidence to suggest that intestinal microbiota influences the central nervous system and may modulate its function via varied mechanisms (Howarth & Wang, 2013; Latulippe et al., 2013; Lozupone et al., 2012).  Dietary manipulations to promote and/or discourage specific gut microbial species or groups are promising therapeutic approaches to treat conditions prevalent in modern society, such as gastrointestinal disorders, obesity and potentially malnutrition (Jeffery & Toole, 2013).  Consequently, there is an increasing interest in developing ingredients and foods products that will modulate the gut microbiota and its metabolic profile for the promotion of health.  

Whether academic, industry, or government, food scientists have long sought to solve problems through cross-disciplinary approaches.  Developing ingredients and foods to promote desirable microbial communities to improve health is in the purview of modern food science & technology.  Clearly, this opportunity to advance consumer health resides heavily in the nexus between microbiology, food science & technology and nutrition.  Food scientists can play an active role in research and scaling for production to incorporate dietary components into food matrices best suited for delivery that benefit the gut microbiota and in turn human health.

Our web-content on the microbiome provides resources on the latest science and techniques to investigate the interconnectedness of gut microbiota with food and human health and disease, and the development of corresponding dietary interventions.  Complete citation of the references is available in the section on “Microbiome, Diet and Health Publications.”  Please contact Farida Mohamedshah at 202-330-4986 or fmohamedshah@ift.org, should you have questions regarding the content of this webpage.