When we hear about gut bacteria, we may think about probiotics and supplements marketed to help with digestion, about how taking antibiotics might affect our intestinal tract, or perhaps about trendy diets that aim to improve gut health.
But two researchers at Penn Medicine think that understanding the microbiome, the entirety of microbial organisms associated with the human body, might be the key to deciphering the fundamental mechanisms that make our bodies work. They think these microbes may work like a call center switchboard, making connections to help different organs, biological systems, and the brain communicate. Maayan Levy, PhD, and Christoph Thaiss, PhD, both assistant professors of Microbiology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, argue that the microbiome is instrumental to revealing how signals from the gastrointestinal tract are received by the rest of the body— which may hold the key to understanding inter-organ communication in general.
While the gut sends signals to all parts of the body to initiate various biological processes, the mechanisms underlying this communication— and communication between different organs involved in these processes—is relatively unknown.
“The more we learn about the role the microbiome plays in a wide range of diseases— from cancer to neurodegenerative diseases to inflammatory diseases — the more important it becomes to understand what exactly its role is,” said Thaiss. “And hopefully once we understand how it works, we can use the microbiome to treat these diseases.”
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