In 2018, research led by Dr. Alexandre Almeida from the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) discovered nearly 2,000 new species of uncultured gut bacteria. Entitled A new genomic blueprint of the human gut microbiota, the study shed light into the field of gastrointestinal science and allowed new methods and discoveries to surface.
Alternative computational tools in metagenomics
This new computational method allowed researchers to reconstruct 92,143 genomes out of samples from 11,850 diverse gut microbiota. The process was a combination of computational methods and metagenomics. According to co-author Dr. Robb Finn, reconstructing bacterial genomes was “like reconstructing hundreds of puzzles after mixing all the pieces together, without knowing what the final image is meant to look like, and after completely removing a few pieces from the mix just to make it that bit harder.” Dr. Finn gave this new method credit as it led them to understand bacteria not yet cultured in the laboratory.
Early detection of Parkinson’s symptoms in gut bacteria
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), around 50,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease each year. A related study by Dr. Filip Scheperjans found that symptoms of the disease may be found in the gastrointestinal system years before the diagnosis. Dr. Scheperjans believes that some patients are affected by the disease through “possible involvement of abnormal protein aggregates, local inflammation, and the gut microbiome”. Metagenomics is able to identify these symptoms early on and allow for more time to treat the disease at the onset. The discovery of the new gut bacteria species can lead scientists one step further to understanding the causes of Parkinson’s.
Gut bacteria impacts effectivity of type 2 diabetes medication
People living with diabetes have an imbalance in the composition of their gut bacteria. A study by Dr. Hariom Yadav, entitled Gut microbiome may affect some anti-diabetes drugs, showed that this gut bacteria could be the trigger for Type 2 diabetes. More importantly, the study suggests that gut bacteria is the reason why diabetes medication for some is ineffective. Since most Type 2 diabetes medication is taken orally, effects are diminished by the gut bacteria. Metagenomics can help guide treatment development by identifying the bacteria affecting orally taken type 2 diabetes medication. “This field is only a decade old, and the possibility of developing treatments derived from bacteria related to or involved in specific diseases is tantalizing,” Dr. Yadav said.
In light of these discoveries, there is still much more we do not know about gut bacteria. Given that this plays a large role in Parkinson’s and Type 2 diabetes as prevalent health concerns in America, it is important to constantly develop the methods and treatments we need. Metagenomics helps scientists create a more comprehensive blueprint for better understanding human health and diseases.