Obesity may be something that can be caught by another person in a similar way that a contagious bug is spread, scientists have found.
A new study conducted by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute found that an imbalance of bacteria in the gut can lead to a number of conditions, including obesity, irritable bowel syndrome and even allergies. For the first time in history, experts have found evidence that traces of bacteria can survive outside the anatomy, suggesting it could be passed between people. If this gut microbiome has a negative impact on the other person’s body, the problems mentioned above could manifest themselves.
Researchers at the institute found that a third of gut microbiota in a healthy person produced spores – a form of bacterial hibernation which allows some to remain dormant for long periods of time – that can survive in open air. Microbiota transmission had not been considered before now, and means that some health issues and diseases could be passed on rather than passed down through genetics. Around two per cent of an individual’s body weight is linked to bacteria, meaning obesity could be caused by it.
“Being able to cast light on this microbial ‘dark matter’ has implications for the whole of biology and how we consider health,” Dr Trevor Lawley, group leader at the Sanger Institute, said.
“We will be able to isolate the microbes from people with a specific disease, such as infection, cancers or autoimmune diseases, and study these microbes in a mouse model to see what happens.
“Studying our ‘second’ genome, that of the microbiota, will lead to a huge increase in our understanding of basic biology and the relationship between our gut bacteria and health and disease.”
Scientists can now work on a tailor-made treatment with niche beneficial bacteria, as it was always too difficult to study bacteria before now due to it being sensitive to oxygen. Now, they can be cultivated in a laboratory.
Dr Lawley and his team are hoping to create a pill with this new knowledge. Findings were published in Nature.