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Stanford University Scientists Discover New Lifeform Residing in Human Microbiome

Though they are a mystery, once solved, Obelisks could lead to new biomarkers for clinical laboratory testing

Microbiologists and clinical laboratories know that human microbiota play many important roles in the body. Now, scientists from Stanford University have discovered an entirely new class of “viroid-like” lifeforms residing inside the human body. The researchers detected their presence in both the gut microbiome and saliva samples. Most interesting of all, the researchers are not sure what the lifeforms actually are.

The Stanford researchers, led by PhD student Ivan Zheludev, called the new discovery “Obelisks” due to their RNA structures, which are short and can fold into structures that resemble rods.

The scientists believe the Obelisks went undetected until now in the human microbiome due to their compact genetic elements, which are only around 1,000 characters or nucleotides in size. A typical human DNA structure consists of around three billion nucleotides. 

In an article they published on the biology preprint server bioRxiv titled, “Viroid-like Colonists of Human Microbiomes,” the Stanford researchers wrote, “Here, we describe the ‘Obelisks,’ a previously unrecognized class of viroid-like elements that we first identified in human gut metatranscriptomic data. … Obelisks comprise a class of diverse RNAs that have colonized and gone unnoticed in human and global microbiomes.”

The researchers discovered that Obelisks “form their own distinct phylogenetic group with no detectable sequence or structural similarity to known biological agents.”

This is yet another example of how researchers are digging deeper into human biology and finding things never before identified or isolated.

“I am really impressed by the approach. The authors were really creative,” computational biologist Simon Roux, PhD (above) of the Department of Energy (DEO) Joint Genome Institute at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory told Science in response to the Stanford researcher’s published findings. “I think this [work] is one more clear indication that we are still exploring the frontiers of this viral universe. This is one of the most exciting parts of being in this field right now. We can see the picture of the long-term evolution of viruses on Earth start to slowly emerge.” How these findings might eventually spark new biomarkers for clinical laboratory testing remains to be seen. (Photo copyright: Berkeley Lab.)

Researchers Bewildered by Obelisks

In their study, “Zheludev and team searched 5.4 million datasets of published genetic sequences and identified almost 30,000 different Obelisks. They appeared in about 10% of the human microbiomes the team examined,” Science reported.

The Stanford researchers found that various types of Obelisks seem to inhabit different areas of the body. In one dataset, the Obelisks were found in half of the oral samples.

The function of Obelisks is unknown, but their discovery is bewildering experts.

“It’s insane,” Mark Peifer, PhD, Michael Hooker Distinguished Professor of Biology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine told Science. “The more we look, the more crazy things we see.”

According to the bioRxiv paper, the Obelisks share several properties, including:

  • Apparently Circular RNA ~1kb genome assemblies,
  • Rod-like secondary structures encompassing the entire genome, and
  • Open reading frames coding for a novel protein superfamily, which the researchers dubbed “Oblins.” 

At least half of the genetic material of the Obelisks was taken up by these Oblins. The researchers suspect those proteins may be involved in the replication process of the newly-discovered lifeforms.

The Oblins are also significantly larger than other genetic molecules that live inside cells and they do not have the genes to create protein shells that RNA viruses live within when they are outside of cells. 

“Obelisks, therefore, need some kind of host. The researchers managed to identify one: A bacterium called Streptococcus sanguinis that lives mostly in dental plaque in our mouths. Exactly which other hosts obelisks inhabit is yet another mystery, as are what they do to their host and how they spread,” Vice reported.

“While we don’t know the ‘hosts’ of other Obelisks, it is reasonable to assume that at least a fraction may be present in bacteria,” the researchers noted in their bioRxiv paper.

Researchers are Stumped

The Stanford scientists were unable to identify any impact the Obelisks were having on their bacterial hosts—either negative or positive—or determine how they could spread between cells.

“These elements might not even be ‘viral’ in nature and might more closely resemble ‘RNA plasmids,’” they concluded in their paper. 

The Stanford scientists are uncertain as to where or what the hosts of the Obelisks are, but they suspect that at least some of them are present in bacteria. However, Obelisks do not appear to be similar to any biological agents that could provide a link between genetic molecules and viruses. 

And so, Obelisks are a true mystery—one the Stanford researchers may one day solve. If they do, new biomarkers for clinical laboratory testing may not be far behind.

—JP Schlingman

Related Information:

“It’s Insane”: New Virus-like Entities Found in Human Gut Microbes

Viroid-like Colonists of Human Microbiomes

‘Obelisks’: Entirely New Class of Life Has Been Found in the Human Digestive System

Scientists Discover New Lifeform Inside Human Bodies

Scientists Have Identified an Entirely New Form of Life in the Gut: Obelisks

Intriguing Find. Stanford University Discovers Obelisks Hiding in Human Microbiomes

New Lifeform Discovered Inside Human Guts

Scientists Discovered Strange ‘Entities’ Called ‘Obelisks’ in Our Bodies. Their Purpose Is a Mystery.

Obelisks: New Life Found in the Human Digestive System

UCLA Researchers Discover Organisms in Semen Microbiome That Affect Sperm Motility and Male Fertility

Study findings could lead to new clinical laboratory testing biomarkers designed to assess for male infertility

Clinical laboratories are increasingly performing tests that have as their biomarkers the DNA and enzymes found in human microbiota. And microbiologists and epidemiologists know that like other environments within the human body, semen has its own microbiome. Now, a study conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has found that the health of semen microbiome may be linked to male infertility. 

The UCLA researchers discovered a small group of microorganisms within semen that may impair the sperm’s motility (its ability to swim) and affect fertility.

A total of 73 individuals were included in the study. About half of the subjects were fertile and already had children, while the remaining men were under consultation for fertility issues.

“These are people who have been trying to get pregnant with their partner, and they’ve been unsuccessful,” Sriram Eleswarapu, MD, PhD, a urologist at UCLA and co-author of the study, told Scientific American. “This latter group’s semen samples had a lower sperm count or motility, both of which can contribute to infertility.”

The researchers published their findings in Scientific Reports titled, “Semen Microbiota Are Dramatically Altered in Men with Abnormal Sperm Parameters.”

“There is much more to explore regarding the microbiome and its connection to male infertility,” said Vadim Osadchiy, MD (above), a resident in the Department of Urology at UCLA and lead author of the study, in a UCLA news release. “However, these findings provide valuable insights that can lead us in the right direction for a deeper understanding of this correlation.” Might it also lead to new biomarkers for clinical laboratory testing for male infertility? (Photo copyright: UCLA.)

Genetic Sequencing Used to Identify Bacteria in Semen Microbiome

Most of the microbes present in the semen microbiome originate in the glands of the male upper reproductive tract, including the testes, seminal vesicles and prostate, and contribute various components to semen. “Drifter” bacteria that comes from urine and the urethra can also accumulate in the fluid during ejaculation. Microbes from an individual’s blood, or his partner’s, may also aggregate in semen. It is unknown how these bacteria might affect health.

“I would assume that there are bacteria that are net beneficial, that maybe secrete certain kinds of cytokines or chemicals that improve the fertility milieu for a person, and then there are likely many that have negative side effects,” Eleswarapu told Scientific American.

The scientists used genetic sequencing to identify different bacteria species present within the semen microbiome. They found five species that were common among all the study participants. But men with more of the microbe Lactobacillus iners (L. iners) were likelier to have impaired sperm motility and experience fertility issues.

This discovery was of special interest to the team because L. iners is commonly found in the vaginal microbiome. In females, high levels of L. iners are associated with bacterial vaginosis and have been linked to infertility in women. This is the first study that found a negative association between L. iners and male fertility. 

The researchers plan to investigate specific molecules and proteins contained in the bacteria to find out whether they slow down sperm in a clinical laboratory situation.

“If we can identify how they exert that influence, then we have some drug targets,” Eleswarapu noted.

Targeting Bacteria That Cause Infertility

The team also discovered that three types of bacteria found in the Pseudomonas genus were present in patients who had both normal and abnormal sperm concentrations. Patients with abnormal sperm concentrations had more Pseudomonas fluorescens and Pseudomonas stutzeri and less Pseudomonas putida in their samples.

According to the federal National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), “one-third of infertility cases are caused by male reproductive issues, one-third by female reproductive issues, and the remaining one-third by both male and female reproductive issues or unknown factors.” Thus, learning more about how the semen microbiome may be involved in infertility could aid in the development of drugs that target specific bacteria.

“Our research aligns with evidence from smaller studies and will pave the way for future, more comprehensive investigations to unravel the complex relationship between the semen microbiome and fertility,” said urologist Vadim Osadchiy, MD, a resident in the Department of Urology at UCLA and lead author of the study, in a UCLA news release

More research is needed. For example, it’s unclear if there are any links between the health of semen microbiome and other microbiomes that exist in the body, such as the gut microbiome, that cause infertility. Nevertheless, this research could lead to new biomarkers for clinical laboratory testing to help couples who are experiencing fertility issues. 

—JP Schlingman

Related Information:

Semen Microbiome Health May Impact Male Fertility

Semen Microbiota Are Dramatically Altered in Men with Abnormal Sperm Parameters

Semen Has Its Own Microbiome—and It Might Influence Fertility

How Common is Male Infertility, and What Are Its Causes?

Asian Company Launches World’s First Diagnostic Test for Microbiome of the Mouth

Collected data could give healthcare providers and clinical laboratories a practical view of individuals’ oral microbiota and lead to new diagnostic assays

When people hear about microbiome research, they usually think of the study of gut bacteria which Dark Daily has covered extensively. However, this type of research is now expanding to include more microbiomes within the human body, including the oral microbiome—the microbiota living in the human mouth. 

One example is coming from Genefitletics, a biotech company based in New Delhi, India. It recently launched ORAHYG, the first and only (they claim) at-home oral microbiome functional activity test available in Asia. The company is targeting the direct-to-consumer (DTC) testing market.

According to the Genefitletics website, the ORAHYG test can decode the root causes of:

The test can also aid in the early detection development of:

“Using oral microbial gene expression sequencing technology and its [machine learning] model, [Genefitletics] recently debuted its oral microbiome gene expression solution, which bridges the gap between dentistry and systemic inflammation,” ETHealthworld reported.

“The molecular insights from this test would give an unprecedented view of functions of the oral microbiome, their interaction with gut microbiome and impact on metabolic, cardiovascular, cognitive, skin, and autoimmune health,” BioSpectrum noted.

Sushant Kumar

“Microbes, the planet Earth’s original inhabitants, have coevolved with humanity, carry out vital biological tasks inside the body, and fundamentally alter how we think about nutrition, medicine, cleanliness, and the environment,” Sushant Kumar (above), founder and CEO of Genefitletics, told the Economic Times. “This has sparked additional research over the past few years into the impact of the trillions of microorganisms that inhabit the human body on our health and diverted tons of funding into the microbiome field.” Clinical laboratories may eventually see an interest and demand for testing of the oral microbiome. (Photo copyright: ETHealthworld.)


Imbalanced Oral Microbiome Can Trigger Disease

The term microbiome refers to the tiny microorganisms that reside on and inside our bodies. A high colonization of these microorganisms—including bacteria, fungi, yeast, viruses, and protozoa—live in our mouths.

“Mouth is the second largest and second most diverse colonized site for microbiome with 770 species comprising 100 billion microbes residing there,” said Sushant Kumar, founder and CEO of Genefitletics, BioSpectrum reported. “Each place inside the mouth right from tongue, throat, saliva, and upper surface of mouth have a distinctive and unique microbiome ecosystem. An imbalanced oral microbiome is said to trigger onset and progression of type 2 diabetes, arthritis, heart diseases, and even dementia.”

The direct-to-consumer ORAHYG test uses a saliva sample taken either by a healthcare professional or an individual at home. That sample is then sequenced through Genefitletics’ gene sequencing platform and the resulting biological data set added to an informatics algorithm.

Genefitletics’ machine-learning platform next converts that information into a pre-symptomatic molecular signature that can predict whether an individual will develop a certain disease. Genefitletics then provides that person with therapeutic and nutritional solutions that can suppress the molecules that are causing the disease. 

“The current industrial healthcare system is really a symptom care [system] and adopts a pharmaceutical approach to just make the symptoms more bearable,” Kumar told the Economic Times. “The system cannot decode the root cause to determine what makes people develop diseases.”

Helping People Better Understand their Health

Founded in 2019, Genefitletics was created to pioneer breakthrough discoveries in microbial science to promote better health and increase longevity in humans. The company hopes to unravel the potential of the oral microbiome to help people fend off illness and gain insight into their health. 

“Microorganisms … perform critical biological functions inside the body and transform our approach towards nutrition, medicine, hygiene and environment,” Kumar told CNBC. “It is important to understand that an individual does not develop a chronic disease overnight.

“It starts with chronic inflammation which triggers pro-inflammatory molecular indications. Unfortunately, these molecular signatures are completely invisible and cannot be measured using traditional clinical grade tests or diagnostic investigations,” he added. “These molecular signatures occur due to alteration in gene expression of gut, oral, or vaginal microbiome and/or human genome. We have developed algorithms that help us in understanding these alterations way before the clinical symptoms kick in.” 

Genefitletics plans to utilize individuals’ collected oral microbiome data to determine their specific nutritional shortcomings, and to develop personalized supplements to help people avoid disease.

The company also produces DTC kits that analyze gut and vaginal microbiomes as well as a test that is used to evaluate an infant’s microbiome.

“The startup wants to develop comparable models to forecast conditions like autism, PCOS [polycystic ovarian syndrome], IBD [Inflammatory bowel disease], Parkinson’s, chronic renal [kidney] disease, anxiety, depression, and obesity,” the Economic Times reported.

Time will tell whether the oral microbiome tests offered by this company prove to be clinically useful. Certainly Genefitletics hopes its ORAHYG test can eventually provide healthcare providers—including clinical laboratory professionals—with a useful view of the oral microbiome. The collected data might also help individuals become aware of pre-symptomatic conditions that make it possible for them to seek confirmation of the disease and early treatment by medical professionals.   

—JP Schlingman

Related Information:

Genefitletics Brings Asia’s First Oral Microbiome Test ORAHYG

Let’s Focus on the Role of Microbiomes in Systemic Inflammation and Disease Development: Sushant Kumar, Genefitletics

Genefitletics Can Now Predict and Detect Chronic Diseases and Cancer

Genefitletics Can Now Predict and Detect Chronic Diseases and Cancer

Healthtech Startup Genefitletics Raises Undisclosed Amount in Pre-seed Funding

Understanding Oral Microbiome Testing: What You Need to Know

Microbiome Firm Raises $86.5 Million and Inks Deal to Sell Consumer Test Kits in 200 CVS Pharmacies

Studying gut bacteria continues to intrigue investors, but can the results produce viable diagnostic data for healthcare providers?

Even as microbiologists and clinical pathologists closely watch research into the human microbiome and anticipate study findings that could lead to new medical laboratory tests based on microbiome testing, there are entrepreneurs ready to tout the benefits of microbiome testing to consumers. That’s the impetus behind an announced deal between a microbiome testing company and a national pharmacy chain.

That deal involves health startup Viome Life Sciences, which recently closed a $86.5 million Series C funding round to support research and development of its consumer health at-home test kits, and CVS, which will sell Viome’s Gut Intelligence Test at 200 of the pharmacy company’s retail locations nationwide, according to an August press release.

“Founded seven years ago by serial entrepreneur Naveen Jain, Viome sells at-home kits that analyze the microbial composition of stool samples and provide food recommendations, as well as supplements and probiotics. Viome says it is the first company to sell gut tests at CVS, both online and in-store. The tests will sell for $179,” GeekWire reported.

Investors appear to be intrigued by these types of opportunities. To date, Viome has raised a total of $175 million.

Naveen Jain

“In a world where healthcare has often been reactive, treating symptoms and targeting diseases only after they manifest, Viome is pioneering a transformative shift by harnessing the innate power of food and nutrition,” stated Naveen Jain (above), Founder and CEO of Viome, in a press release. “Our mission is not just to prolong life but to enrich it, enabling everyone to thrive in health and vitality.” But some microbiologists and clinical laboratory scientists would consider that the current state of knowledge about the human microbiome is not well-developed enough to justify offering direct-to-consumer microbiology tests that encourage consumers to purchase nutritional products. (Photo copyright: Viome Life Sciences.)

Empowering People to Make Informed Decisions about Their Health

Established in 2016, Bellevue, Washington-based Viome produces and sells, among other tests, its Gut Intelligence at-home test kit, which analyzes the microbial composition of stool samples. This kit relies on RNA sequencing to detect bacteria and other elements present in the gut, such as yeasts and viruses.

The genetic data is then entered into an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm to provide individuals with information regarding their personal gut health. Viome partnered with Los Alamos National Laboratory to create their AI platform. The company has collected more than 600,000 test samples to date. 

“We are the only company that looks at the gene expression and what these microbes are doing,” said Naveen Jain, Founder and CEO of Viome in the press release.

Viome uses technology combined with science to determine the optimal outcomes for each individual consumer based on his or her unique human and microbial gene expression. The data derived from the microbiome is also utilized to offer nutritional recommendations and supplement advice to test takers.

“At Viome, we’re empowering our customers with an individualized nutrition strategy, cutting through the noise of temporary trends and one-size-fits-all advice,” Jain added. “We’re on a journey to redefine aging itself, and we’re invigorated by the support of our investors and customers. Together, we’re building pathways to wellness that hold the potential to enhance the lives of billions of fellow humans across the globe.”

Manipulating Microbiome through Diet

Some scientists, however, are not sold on the idea of microbiome test kits and the data they offer to healthcare providers for treating illnesses.

“The best thing anybody can do for their microbiome is to eat a healthy diet. That’s the best way of manipulating your microbiome,” David Suskind, MD, a gastroenterologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital and Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Washington, told GeekWire.

“The kit will detect things, but we still don’t know as doctors what to do with this information for clinical practice,” gastroenterologist Elena Verdu, MD, PhD, Associate Director of the Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.

Verdu, GeekWire reported, added that “there needs to be standardization of protocols and better understanding of microbiome function in health and disease.”

“Recommendations for such commercial kits would have to be based on evidence-based guidelines, which currently do not exist,” she told GeekWire.

Nevertheless, Jain remains positive about the value of microbiome testing. “The future of medicine will be delivered at home, not at the hospital. And the medicines of the future are going to come from a farm, not a pharmacy,” he told GeekWire.  

Other Viome At-home Tests

According to a paper published in the journal Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology  titled, “Role of the Gut Microbiota in Health and Chronic Gastrointestinal Disease: Understanding a Hidden Metabolic Organ,” the human gut contains trillions of microbes, and no two people share the exact same microbiome composition. This complex community of microbial cells influences human physiology, metabolism, nutrition and immune function, and performs a critical role in overall health.

CVS currently sells Viome’s “Gut Intelligence Health Insights Plus Personalized Nutrition Plan” on its website for $149.99. Prices may vary from online to in-store. The test is intended for individuals who want to monitor and address gut imbalances or health symptoms, such as:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Bloating
  • Heartburn
  • Itchy skin
  • Trouble maintaining a healthy weight

Viome sells the Gut Intelligence Test for $179 on its own website, as well as the following health tests:

Viome also sell precision probiotics and prebiotics, as well as supplements and oral health lozenges.

Gut microbiome testing kits, such as the one from Viome, typically require the collection of a stool sample. Healthcare consumers have in the past been reluctant to perform such testing, but as more information regarding gut health is published, that reluctance may diminish.

Clinical laboratories also have a stake in the game. Dynamic direct to consumer at-home testing has the potential to generate revenue for clinical laboratories, while helping consumers who want to monitor different aspects of their health. But this would be an adjunct to the primary mission of medical laboratories to provide testing services to local physicians and their patients.

—JP Schlingman

Related Information:

Genomic Testing Startup Viome Closes $86.5M Round, Partners with CVS to Sell At-home Kits

Preventative Health and Longevity Company, Viome Life Sciences, Closes $86.5M Oversubscribed Series C Funding Round

Viome, a Microbiome Startup, Raises $86.5M, Inks Distribution Deal with CVS

Viome Life Sciences Raises $54M for Expanded Clinical Trials

Researchers Use Ingestible Device to Non-Invasively Sample Human Gut Bacteria in a Development That Could Enable More Clinical Laboratory Testing of Microbiomes

Researchers Find Health of Human Microbiome Greatly Influenced by Foods We Eat

Gut Health Startup Viome Raises $54M to Develop Cancer Diagnostics and Sell Microbiome Kits

Researchers Use Ingestible Device to Non-Invasively Sample Human Gut Bacteria in a Development That Could Enable More Clinical Laboratory Testing of Microbiomes

Technology enables sampling of an individual’s microbiome over time to observe changes associated with different illnesses or different diets

There is now a pill-sized device that can non-invasively collect and deliver a sample of gut bacteria taken directly from specific areas of a person’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract. One benefit of this new technology is that it can collect samples from the upper digestive system. Although not ready for clinical use, this is the kind of technology that would enable microbiologists and clinical laboratory scientists to add more microbiome assays to their test menu.

Researchers at Stanford University, Envivo Bio, and the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) have developed a vitamin capsule-sized device—dubbed CapScan—that can measure the microbial, viral, and bile acid profiles contained in the human intestines as it passes through on its way to being expelled.

Currently, scientists rely on stool samples to collect similar data as they are easy to gather and readily available. However, stool samples may not provide the most accurate analysis of the various microorganisms that reside in the human gut. 

“Measuring gut metabolites in stool is like studying an elephant by examining its tail,” said Dari Shalon, PhD, Founder and CEO at Envivo Bio, one of the authors of the study, in a UC Davis news release. “Most metabolites are made, transformed, and utilized higher up in the intestines and don’t even make it into the stool. CapScan gives us a fuller picture of the gut metabolome and its interactions with the gut microbiome for the first time.” Shalon is the inventor of the CapScan device.

This demonstrates how technological advancements are giving scientists new diagnostic tools to guide selection of therapies and to monitor a patient’s progress.

The researchers published their findings in Nature titled, “Profiling the Human Intestinal Environment under Physiological Conditions.”

Microbiologists will take a special interest in this published study because, once confirmed by further studies, it would provide microbiology laboratories and clinical labs with a new way to collect samples. In clinical laboratories throughout the country, handling fecal specimens is considered an unpleasant task. Once cleared for clinical use, devices like CapScan would be welcomed because the actual specimen would be contained within the capsule, making it a cleaner, less smelly specimen to handle than conventional fecal samples.

“This capsule and reports are the first of their kind,” said Oliver Fiehn, PhD, Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology at UC Davis, in a news release. “All other studies on human gut microbiota focused on stool as a surrogate for colon metabolism. However, of course, the fact is that 90% of human digestion happens in the upper intestine, not the colon.” Clinical laboratories have long worked with stool samples to perform certain tests. If CapScan proves clinically viable, labs may soon have a new diagnostic tool. (Photo copyright: UC Davis.)

Collecting Small Intestine Microbiota

Human digestion occurs mostly in the small intestine where enzymes break down food particles so they can later be absorbed through the gut wall and processed in the body. Stool samples, however, only sample the lower colon and not the small intestine. This leaves out vital information about a patient.

“The small intestine has so far only been accessible in sedated people who have fasted, and that’s not very helpful,” Oliver Fiehn, PhD, Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology at UC Davis and one of the study authors, said in the news release.

According to their Nature paper, to perform their research the team recruited 15 healthy adults to participate in the study. Each participant swallowed four CapScan “pills,” either twice daily or on two consecutive days. The pills were designed to respond to different pH (potential of hydrogen) levels.

Each pill’s pH-sensitive outer coating enables scientists to select which area of the intestinal tract to sample. The outer coating dissolves at a certain point as it travels from the upper intestine to the colon. When this happens, a one-way valve gathers miniscule amounts of biofluids into a tiny, inflatable bladder. Once full, the bladder seals shut and the CapScan continues its journey until it is recovered in the stool. The researchers then genetically sequenced the RNA from the collected samples.

The scientists discovered that the microbiome varied substantially at distinctive sections of the GI tract. When compared to collected stool samples, the researchers determined that traditional stool sampling could not capture that variability.

“There’s enormous potential as you think about how the environment is changing as you go down the intestinal tract,” Kerwyn Huang, PhD, Professor of Bioengineering and of Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford, one of the authors of the study, told Drug Discovery News. “Identifying how something like diet or disease affects the variation in the individual microbiome may even provide the potential to start discovering these important health associations.”

The genetic sequencing also revealed which participants had taken antibiotics within one to five months before the study because their data was so incongruous with the other participants. Those individuals had distinctive differences in their microbiome and bile acid composition, which illustrates that antibiotics can potentially affect gut bacteria even months after being taken.

Researchers Use Multiple ‘Omics’ Approach

The researchers used “multiomics” to analyze the samples. They identified the presence of 2,000 metabolites and found associations between metabolites and diet.

According to the Envivo Bio website, the CapScan allows for the regional measurement of:

  • Small intestine microbiota
  • Secondary metabolites
  • Drug metabolism
  • Inflammatory biomarkers
  • Bile acid transformations
  • Fiber fermentations

“Overall, this device can help elucidate the roles of the gut microbiome and metabolome in human physiology and disease,” Fiehn said in the press release. 

Future of Collecting Gut Bacteria

Using CapScan is a non-invasive procedure that makes it possible to sample an individual’s microbiome once, or to monitor it over time to observe changes associated with different illnesses or diets. Since it takes time for the device to pass through the digestive system, it is not a rapid test, but initial studies show it could be more accurate than traditional clinical laboratory testing. 

“This technology makes it natural to think about sampling from many places and many times from one person, and it makes that straightforward and inexpensive,” Huang said.

Advancements in technology continue to provide microbiology and clinical laboratories with new, innovative tools for diagnosing and monitoring diseases, as well as guiding therapy selection by medical professionals. Though more research and clinical studies are needed before a device like the CapScan can be commonly used by medical professionals, it may someday provide a cutting-edge method for collecting microbiome samples.    

—JP Schlingman

Related Information:

Profiling the Human Intestinal Environment under Physiological Conditions

Human Metabolome Variation along the Upper Intestinal Tract

Human Metabolome Variation along the Upper Intestinal Tract

Capsule Captures First Look Inside Digestion in Healthy People

A Vitamin-sized Device Samples the Gut Microbiome

Modern Multiomics: Why, How, and Where to Next?

Researchers Find Health of Human Microbiome Greatly Influenced by Foods We Eat

International Study into Ancient Poop Yields Insight into the Human Microbiome, May Produce Useful Insights for Microbiologists

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