Early in life—and quite possibly starting in the womb—each of us begins to develop a unique population of bacteria inside our bodies called our microbiome. Those bacteria reside mainly in the gut and play an important role in our overall well-being from birth to adulthood, but with age we often experience a decline in the “friendly” microbes called probiotics that are known to support digestive and immune health.
With this in mind, scientists wonder if keeping the gut bacteria in balance could improve intestinal function and help ward off age-related disease. With the help of colleagues from the Scripps Research Institute in Florida, a team of researchers from the University of California Los Angeles conducted a study using fruit flies, in which they altered the gut bacteria of the flies to see if it would result in a longer lifespan.
Fruit flies were chosen because of their relatively short lifespan, which makes them ideal for a study like this one. As it turns out, changing the microbial population of the flies helped prevent a breakdown in the gut lining which typically occurs shortly before their death. According to the study findings, the flies’ health was significantly improved, and they were able to live about one and a half times longer than their normal lifespan.
“Age-onset decline is very tightly linked to changes within the community of gut microbes,” said David Walker, PhD, senior study author and a professor of integrative biology and physiology at UCLA. He and his team believe applying the same techniques in humans may one day help prevent diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, and more.