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How bacteria break down human food

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Last weeks post on the changing composition of bacteria in the vagina generated a lot of interest, and as there’s been quite a of talk about the human microbiome (all the bacteria that live on the human body) at the moment I thought I’d stick with the theme. This weeks post is about how bacteria break down the nutrients that humans eat and use them to create their own food.

The paper (reference 1 below) from PLoS One focuses on carbohydrates. Starting with some biochemistry background: carbohydrates are molecules made exclusively from carbon, hydrogen and oxygen (hence the name). These three molecules are arranged into a ring structure for the simple carbohydrates such as glucose, and those rings are put together into long complex branching chains for the complex carbohydrates such as starch and cellulose.
 
 

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