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University of Maryland Researcher Identifies Role of Important Bacteria

Biological and science background
While researchers across the United States continue to focus their efforts on a wide variety of medical conditions and potential treatments, in recent years, one topic in particular has grown especially popular: the benefits and role of gut bacteria. Given the complexity and delicate nature of these microbes, scientists suspect that this system could have a significant impact on health and disease. For this reason, a considerable number of the estimated 20 million biological samples that are collected and stored in biobank freezer inventory systems every year are connected to this part of the body. Now, a research team at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UM SOM) may have identified the role one important type of bacteria plays in your intestine.Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG) is one of the well-known strains of bacteria found in the gut microbiome. A common ingredient in many popular probiotic products, researchers have found evidence that LGG can help with intestinal problems, respiratory infections, some skin disorders and even weight loss. However, one question has long plagued scientists: how does LGG actually produce these benefits?

To answer this question, Claire M. Fraser, Ph.D, studied the effects of LGG on a group of 12 elderly subjects. A professor of medicine at UM SOM and the director of the Institute for Genome Sciences in Baltimore, Fraser said that LGG’s reputation was enough reason to study the bacteria. “This species of bacteria has a reputation for being really useful to humans,” she told the journal Health Canal. “So we wanted to better understand how it might work in the human intestine.”

With the help of her research partner, Dr. Patricia Hibberd at Massachusetts General Hospital, Fraser had 12 elderly subjects ingest LGG twice a day for 28 days. They analyzed gut bacteria and after this period using an innovative method called metagenomic analysis, which provides a more comprehensive, detailed view of microbes. The team found that the patients showed increased levels of several genes that promote several strains of gut bacteria. These species, including Bacteroides, Eubacterium, Faecalibacterium, Bifidobacterium and Streptococcus, have been linked to a number of health benefits in humans, including a healthy immune system.

Given these results, Fraser and Hibberd believe that LGG may act as a facilitator, regulating the activity of other bacteria in the gut. However, in a report published in the journal mBio, Fraser also notes that LGG may also have direct effects on the human ecosystem. Because this is the first time these impacts have been described, the discover could help scientists identify more effective strategies to create a healthy gut.

“This is a new idea, that some probiotics may work by affecting the overall ecosystem of the gut,” said Fraser told Health Canal. “Previously we tended to think that LGG and other probiotics worked directly on the host.”

Now, Fraser says, we need to consider the microbes in the gut as an interconnected environment rather than a system of solitary bacteria. This would mean that modifying existing microbes is just as important as adding new species to the population.

As exciting as this discovery is, however, it is only the latest development in the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s legacy of innovation. Since the institution was chartered in 1807 as the first public medical school in the United States, the college has developed into one of the leading biomedical research centers in the country. Featuring programs in cancer, brain science, surgery and transplantation, trauma and emergency medicine, vaccine development, human genomics and more, the School of Medicine actively works to improve the health of Maryland, the U.S. as a whole, and 35 other countries around the world.

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