Micro-organisms in the gut support healthy digestion by helping nerve cells within the intestine to regulate the contraction and relaxation of the muscle wall of the colon, according to new research from the Crick and Bern University.

The study, published in Nature, identified how the contraction and relaxation of muscles in the colon, which is regulated by nerve cells and is needed to push food along, is influenced by the bacteria resident in our gut. 

When such microbes are present, a specific gene called Ahr is activated in intestinal nerves, resulting in healthy contraction and relaxation of the colon (peristalsis). This relationship can be disrupted in cases of intestinal disorders, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Read more: Eurekalert