Can We Upgrade Our Gut Bacteria to Help Fight Disease?

bacteriaBetter, stronger, faster. Programming our gut bacteria to detect the early warning signs of disease and help keep us healthy may sound like science fiction, but researchers have already begun developing and testing the new technology—and the results look promising.

Building upon data from a previous study involving E. coli bacteria, scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently created a genetically modified version of common type of bacteria found in the human gut called Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron. They then tested the modified bacteria on mice.

The upgraded B. thetaiotaomicron bacteria were equipped with microscopic circuits and sensors, as well as a “genetic memory” to help them identify DNA patterns and send a signal when they encounter abnormalities such as inflammation or bleeding. Not only did the alterations allow the bacteria to function as a possible disease detector, but they also helped protect them from being killed by antimicrobial molecules in the gut.

Using food as a control method, the research team was able to activate certain genes within the bacteria and modify their response to their environment based on what the mice were fed. Their hope is that similar modified bacteria may one day be used to help detect and possibly alter the genes involved with certain diseases and conditions (including obesity) to ultimately improve treatment and health outcomes.

Knowing that each individual has a unique microbiome and this new technology may not be a “one size fits all” solution, researchers have already planned additional research to analyze how such modified bacteria may function in different environments.

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Is that Sugary Drink Worth Your Life?

soda-cansPeople are drinking more sugar-sweetened beverages than ever before—and it’s slowly killing us. After analyzing three decades of dietary information for more than 600,000 adults in 51 countries worldwide, researchers at Tufts University in Boston believe all those sodas, energy drinks, fruit drinks, and teas add up to about 184,000 deaths every year.

Sugary drinks are among the biggest offenders in a high-sugar diet. A single can of soda may contain up to ten teaspoons of sugar, which is nearly twice the amount recommended by the World Health Organization for an entire day. And the more sugar we eat, the higher our risk of obesity and obesity-related conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and even premature death—which is exactly what this new data confirms.

Among the 20 most heavily populated countries, the United States ranked second only to Mexico in the number of annual deaths attributable to high-sugar beverages (125 per 1 million adults). In addition, researchers determined that younger adults were at a greater risk than their older counterparts, possibly due to more exposure to sugary drinks as children.

“This is not complicated,” said senior author Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian in a university press release. “There are no health benefits from sugar-sweetened beverages, and the potential impact of reducing consumption is saving tens of thousands of deaths each year.”

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