The microbiome: our second genome | Fight AIDS Foundation

The microbiome: our second genome

05/02/2014

The Catalunya - La Pedrera Foundation and SARquavitae Foundation have signed a collaboration agreement to finance and carry out the research project "The intestinal microbiome in frail elderly", by researchers from the Fight AIDS Foundation and the AIDS Research Institute IrsiCaixa. The project is led by Drs. Bonaventura Clotet and Roger Paredes.

El síndrome de fragilidad del anciano describe un estado de vulnerabilidad de la persona mayor como consecuencia del deterioro acumulativo de diferentes sistemas fisiológicos durante la vida. Esto acaba comportando una disminución de su autonomía, con una aceleración de problemas médicos y sociales.

The old man's frailty syndrome describes a vulnerable status in elderly people as a result of the cumulative deterioration of physiological systems during a lifetime. This, ends in a decreased autonomy, with an acceleration of medical and social problems.

One of the main features of the fragility of the elderly is its inflammatory background, poorly investigated so far. The Fight AIDS Foundation and IrsiCaixa, who are investigating these disorders in patients with HIV, will analyze imbalances in the composition and function of the intestinal flora (microbiome) in relation to diet, and its influence in the chronic inflammatory state and the fragility of the person in general. The aim of the research is to obtain relevant information to prevent and improve the health of these people through nutritional interventions and changes in diet.

The research -driven by Catalunya - La Pedrera and SARquavitae foundations- will take place in residential and health centers of SARquavitae as well as in homes, to provide a representative sample of the target studied.

 

WHY STUDY MICROBIOME?

 

The human body has about 37 trillion different cells, but of these, only 10% are human cells. The rest belong to the nearly 100 trillion microbes that can be found inside each of us.

The hundreds of microbial species with whom we share our bodies live (and die) in different parts of the body: the surface of the skin, tongue, nostrils, neck ... But it is in the intestines where they mostly inhabit, forming a whole universe, largely unknown, that scientists are just beginning to explore thanks to advances in technology.

Over 99% of "our" genetic information, is actually information from this community of microbes, our microbiota. And it seems increasingly likely that this "second genome", as it is sometimes called, has a great influence on our health. Perhaps an even greater influence than the one exerted by the genes we inherit from our parents. Inherited genes are more or less fixed, invariable: however, it seems that the second genome provided by the microbiota can be remodeled and even regenerated.

The microbiota plays a key role in several aspects: the first thing we need to understand, however, is that human health and microbial health are inextricably linked. Disorders in our internal ecosystem of microbes -a loss of diversity, for example, or the proliferation of the "wrong" kind of specie- may predispose us to obesity, metabolic problems, and a long list of chronic diseases and some infections.
 
The relationship between the state of the microbiota and our immune system seems clear: one of the main functions of the microbes found in our intestines is to feed the epithelium (intestinal wall). If this is not properly nourished, it can become more permeable, allowing bacteria, endotoxins -which are toxic products from certain bacteria-, and proteins to enter the bloodstream, causing inflammation and immune response.
 

For people with a compromised (weakened) immune system, such as people with HIV, the study of the influence of the microbiome in the immune system may be vital to improve their quality of life and to  increase defenses that fight the infection. Similarly, a healthy aging microbiota could ensure higher quality aging, with lesss fragility.

Many microbiome researchers are careful not to rush and pledge that their research will find a cure for many diseases. However, whatever advances will be launched by the exploration of the second genome, the implications of what has been learned, to our sense of self, our definition of health and our attitude toward bacteria in genera,l are undeniable.

 

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