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Research: Gut Bacteria's Genomes are Unique, Stable

We all have E. coli bacteria in our gut but each of us carries a version that is genetically slightly different. The same can be said of most gut microbes: our own gut metagenome, that is the sum of all the genomes of all our gut microbes, appears to be really specific to each of us, and to remain stable over time. For the first time, researchers from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) have studied this metagenome at such a high resolution that individual mutations in the various strains could be analyzed.

Their findings, published in Nature, could have widespread consequences in medicine: gut microbes are known to be essential for functions as vital as digesting food or providing vitamins, but can also be involved in diseases if they carry certain mutations.

The scientists analyzed the gut metagenome of 207 individuals from Europe and the United States, matching more than 7 billion pieces of DNA (of 100 letters each) to the genomes of our most abundant gut microbial species.

“This large-scale analysis showed that, at least when healthy, we carry a unique set of bacterial strains and their mutations in our gut, over a long time," explained Peer Bork who led the study at EMBL. “It is like a second genetic signature, but one that probably does not come from our parents but that we acquire from the environment in early childhood."
 
 

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