A Typical Human Gut Contains About 100 Trillion Bacterial Cells

Giant GutToday I found out the human gut contains about 100 trillion bacterial cells, about 10 times as many cells as make up the human body.

The human gut is basically sterile until you are born.  For the first year of your life, the cultures of bacteria and other microbes in your gut fluctuate wildly and begin settling down around the time you start weaning.

A recent study published in the journal, Nature, which included scientists from Germany, Brussells, Beijing, Denmark, Spain, France and the UK, set out to catalog all of the microbes in a typical human gut, which they did successfully, managing to decode all the microbial genes found there.

Given that we are so incredibly dependent on these microbes for our bodies to function properly, this research could very quickly lead to significant advancements in various medical fields, including how we treat and recognize a variety of ailments.  As Dr Jerome Raes, a researcher who was part of the study said, “We have no clue as to how the gut works because this is a very complex ecosystem.  We really don’t know how that ecosystem works even though it is crucial for our well being.  We don’t know how food is digested and which species do what.” “We’ve basically sequenced all of their (the subjects) genomes at once. It was a huge effort because it’s basically the biggest sequencing exercise anyone has done so far – it’s about 200 times the sequencing effort of the human genome project,” he said.

The team analyzed fecal matter from 124 Europeans.  Surprisingly, and going against less detailed research in the past, the researchers discovered that, despite the diversity of subjects, they shared more or less the same types of bacteria in their guts.  They also found an amazing number of previously unknown microbes.

Gut Swallowing Face“A lot of things we found were new… whenever you go fishing for microbial diversity you find thousands of novel species because the microbial world is vastly uncharted,” Dr Raes said.

“In the future, we should be able to modify the (microbial) flora to optimize health and well being,” he said.  “This also opens up the possibility of prevention through diet, and treatments tailored a person’s genetic and microbial profile.”

Bonus Facts:

  • Bacterial densities in a human’s colon are the highest recorded for any known ecosystem.
  • Of all the genes in our gut, it turns out, over 99% of them are bacterial.
  • During the above study, over 1000 prevalent species were discovered with each person having about 160 species present in their guts and the vast majority of them being unknown in terms of what they do or what effects they have on us.  Of these 1,000 species, they found over 3.3 million distinct genes spread across those species.
  • These bacteria help us digest food, provide essential vitamins, and protect us from invading pathogens.  When some of these cultures are destroyed, it can lead to such problems as Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative colitis, and even has been linked to obesity.
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