Certain bacteria could make you fat. That was the surprise finding by an American research team based at the Centre for Genome Studies in 2006 *1 who looked at the differences in gut bacteria between fat and thin people. Specific groups of microbes were not just associated with obesity, they actually seemed to catalyse and thrive on it *2.
We can now study all the genes in a bacterial cell. This creates extraordinary potential to deliver new health solutions”
His first application of this approach explored how high or low protein diets affect the bacteria in the guts of kittens as they grow *3. “We had already shown that we could accurately identify a huge range of bacteria. However, many were novel so we didn’t know what they were doing.”
*1 Turnbaugh et al 2006. An obesity-associated gut microbiome with increased capacity for energy harvest
That was the theory, the reality was much more challenging. Taking samples directly from kitten intestines would have been too invasive. Instead they worked with faecal samples since faeces collects intestinal bacteria as it transits through the gut.
“With such knowledge tailor made diets could be produced to select for these bacteria and improve pet health.”
Strikingly of the 10 most affected bacterial pathways, 6 were involved in amino acid metabolism proving his approach had worked. The main difference in diet was protein content and proteins consist of amino acids. What he had proved was that enough protein in the high protein diet had travelled to the gut and selected for bacteria that were most efficient at breaking down amino acids.
Having a metagenomics capability opens up many research directions; the effects of diet, age, obesity on the gut bacteria of pets can now be investigated. “The next step is to understand what gut bacteria are associated with healthy cats and dogs versus, for example, obesity,” says Dr Deusch. “With such knowledge tailor made diets could be produced to select for these bacteria and improve pet health.”