The study shows how microbes in our digestive tract have learned to unravel the difficult to break down complex carbohydrates that make up the yeast cell wall.
Evolving over the 7,000 years that we have been eating fermented food and drink, the ability of a common gut bacterium called Bacteroides taiotomicron to degrade yeasts is almost exclusively found in the human gut.
The international research team says the discovery of this process could accelerate the development of prebiotic medicines to help people suffering from bowel problems and autoimmune diseases.
The new findings provide a better understanding of how our unique intestinal soup of bacteria - termed the 'microbiome', has the capacity to obtain nutrients from our highly varied diet. The results suggest yeast has health benefits possibly by increasing the Bacteroides growth in the microbiome.
Researchers believed this mechanism emanated from the ability of common gut bacteria to recycle chemically similar carbohydrates present on intestinal cells, which are constantly being shed and renewed to keep the intestinal lining healthy.
"However, these bacteria turned out to be smarter than we thought: they recognize and degrade both groups of carbohydrates, but have entirely separate strategies to do so despite the substantial chemical similarity between the host and yeast carbohydrates," Martens said.     

The study was published in the journal Nature.

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