I am preparing slides for a talk I’m giving on helminths at an autism conference in Moscow at the end of the month. I’m struggling more than I usually do because there is an overwhelming amount of information to try to fit into a 1 hour talk…and it seems new research on the biome comes out daily now. So while I am trying to cut the number of slides down, I find some other crucial piece of information I feel like I absolutely must include. I mean…how can I NOT include information from the paper I just finished reading this morning, Helminth Colonization is Associated with Increased Diversity of the Gut Microbiota[i]?!
Once I give you some of the highlights, you’ll understand my quandary. This group of researchers, who include Dr. P’ng Loke, whose work I have mentioned before, compared the microbiota of people – some with helminths, some without – from a rural area of Malaysia. They hypothesized “…that helminth infected individuals may have increased microbial diversity relative to uninfected individuals.” The feces of 36 of the 51 individuals in the study demonstrated the presence of helminths. Their results “…showed that the helminth-positive subjects had significantly greater species richness (total number of species present) than the helminth-negative subjects…These results suggest that helminth colonization significantly affects the gut microbiota and may increase the species diversity of the bacterial communities.”
There were several other really interesting findings:
- The researchers also compared the microbiota of these Malaysians to those of people in New York City and found that there was a “…much larger difference than the difference between helminth infected and non-infected people in Malaysia.” They attribute this to helminth exposure, and point out that even the Malaysians who were not currently infected may have been in the past… explaining perhaps why the differences between the two groups of Malaysians was far less dramatic those found between the New York City residents and the Malaysians.
- They also noted that the intestinal microbiota evolves to “…resemble an adult-like configuration within the first three years of life.” We know though that diet, later-in-life helminth exposure, prebiotics, stress levels, etc. can change the microbiota but perhaps only with continual exposure. That is, I wonder if someone in New York starts taking helminths, will her microbiota look more like one of these Malaysian infected individuals? And if she stops exposing herself to helminths, will her microbiota go back to baseline or will it look more like the other Malaysians who had likely been infected in the past?
- Helminths co-evolved with the microbiota and significant interactions therefore exist. For example, one species of helminth, Trichuris muris, only hatches in the presence of commensal bacterial species.
- Some of the differences between the Malaysians and the Americans may be diet related. The microbiota found in the New York City residents is associated with diets heavy in animal proteins and saturated fats, whereas the microbiota of the Malaysians is associated with simple sugar and high fiber diets (plant-based foods).
In their final discussion, the researchers state that the increase in microbiota diversity “…among helminth-infected individuals could be important because higher microbiota diversity has been associated with better health.”
So as I said at the start, how can I not put all this information into my lecture? I will just have to talk fast and hope the translator can keep up!
[i] Lee, SC, Tang, MS, Lim, YA, Choy, SH, Kurtz, ZD, Cox, LM, Gundra, UM, Cho, I, Bonneau, R, Blaser, MJ, Chua, KH, Loke, P. Helminth colonization is associated with increased diversity of the gut microbiota. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases. 2014. 8(5):e2880.