Researchers from the Institute of Food Research and the University of East Anglia in UK have discovered how our bodies maintain a close relationship with the population of gut bacteria that play crucial roles in maintaining our health - fighting infection and digesting our food.

"The study shows how bacteria communicate across different kingdoms to influence our own cells’ behaviour, as well as how we digest our food," said Dr Regis Stentz from the Institute of Food Research.

The gut bacteria produce an enzyme that modifies signaling in cells lining the gut. The enzyme also has a role in breaking down food components.

We all rely on trillions of bacteria in our gut to break down certain components of our diet.

One example is phytate, the form phosphorus takes in cereals and vegetables.

Broken down phytate is a source of vital nutrients but it has detrimental properties in its undigested form.
Dr Stentz and colleagues screened the genomes of hundreds of different species of gut bacteria.

In one of the most prominent gut bacteria species, they found an enzyme able to break down phytate.

The bacteria package the enzyme in small 'cages' which allow phytate in for nutrient processing but prevent it being destroyed by our own protein-degrading enzymes.

This releases nutrients, specifically phosphates and inositol, which can be absorbed by our own bodies, as well as the bacteria, said the study published in the journal Cell Reports.

"The enzyme we have uncovered has dual roles - in providing dietary nutrients as well as in modifying host cell behaviour," said Professor Simon Carding, who led the research.

Uncovering how we breakdown phytate will improve our understanding of how we maintain health, and possibly provide new avenues to reducing its effects in exacerbating malnutrition.


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