BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: food

Hunter-Gatherer to Westernized Human Gut Biomes

Somewhere between the time of early hunter-gatherer humans, and the present-day humans living in modernized Western societies, the human gut biome lost much of its diversity. New research has contributed another clue as to the evolution of the human gut biome.

An international team of scientists studied the fecal samples of an intermediary group between hunter-gatherers and Westernized humans. The Bantu community in Africa is a traditional, agricultural population that has incorporated some available Western practices, including the use of antibiotics and therapeutic drugs.

 

Bantu people; Steve Evans,  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Bantu#/media/File:Mozambique001.jpg

The scientists compared the Bantu gut biomes to those of the BaAka pygmy population, who resemble early hunter-gatherer populations and have no Western influences, and to the gut biomes of humans living in modern, Westernized societies.

By analyzing the sequence data of the three human biomes, the scientists placed the Bantu’s biome composition in between the BaAka’s and Westernized humans’. The Bantu shared similar bacterial species as the BaAka, but lacked many of the traditional bacteria that the BaAka possessed. In fact, the BaAka had such a different biome composition that their gut more closely resembled wild primate biomes!

 

Based on the functions of the variable bacterial groups between the three populations, the team hypothesizes that the boosted carbohydrate-processing pathways in Bantu and American biomes is a result of the sugars in our diet, whereas the BaAka do not have much access to such foods and thus do not have such bacterial populations.

Ultimately, the scientists have accepted that our diet contributes significantly to our gut biome composition.

Junk Food Encourages Disease

According to a recent discovery posted in Science News, a typical American diet, consisting of poorly nutritional foods, leaves one prone to getting sick by weakening their immune system. Interestingly enough, this issue is rooted in cells that are not your own. In your gut microbiome, there are countless varieties and numbers of bacteria, all working away at the food that passes through your gut. Now, these bacteria are actually quite manipulative, and besides from feeding off of the food that you eat, teach your immune system what to attack, like an instructor or tutor for your immune system, albeit a biased one. These bacteria have colonized your body. They’re not just going to let some pathogen get in the way of their free meal ticket.

(What it looks like in there)

What happens when you eat certain foods, like junk foods, is that your gut microbiome changes. Different bacteria thrive on the fatty or sugary foods while other bacteria that survive off of more complex starches and carbs fade away, changing the demographic of your gut microbiome. This limited variety also limits the amount of invaders your immune system knows as hostile, or understands how to deal with, and therefore, you are more susceptible to disease, or medical complications.

(Actual photo of a biofilm found in the gut)

This was proven by taking samples from fit and obese humans and inserting them in otherwise sterile mice. Their resulting microbiomes grew, and the mice with the obese implant suffered more medical problems than the mice with the fit implant. This is because there were not enough “trainer” bacteria in the first mice’s gut to help train it to fend off disease, and thus it got sick more easily. So don’t go blaming your immune system the next time you get sick. It may be your fault for avoiding real, nutritional food (not just salad), and not taking care of it.

The moral of the story is to eat your vegetables and serve the bacterial overlords that have taken host in your body.

They’re good for you.

Trust me.

 

Artificial Sweeteners: Safe or Sweet Misery?

Picture of Splenda

Picture of Splenda

Have you ever drunk a zero-calorie soda or eaten a sugar free dessert as a “healthier” choice or perhaps to even “cut calories”? If you’re like me, you have probably begrudgingly done this numerous times, maybe even at the request of your mom, despite your desire for that sweet snack. Well, new research has been conducted that suggests that the artificial sweeteners used to substitute sugar actually increase blood sugar levels-the exact condition they aim to avoid.

A study conducted by biologists, Segal and Elinav, of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, showed that after 11 weeks of drinking water with the sweetener Saccharin, commonly found in Sweet’N Low, mice had higher glucose levels in their bloodstream, a symptom of diabetes. Additionally, the scientists conducted another experiment with seven volunteers who were given the maximum approved daily dose of saccharin for a week. This time Segal and Elinav found that four out of the seven subjects developed an unbalanced glucose metabolism similar to that of the mice. From this experiment, the scientists hypothesized that artificial sweeteners negatively affect our bodies and may promote disease.

Although these results are preliminary and are largely reflective of mice’s digestive systems rather than humans, the study raises a valuable caution for consumers to reassess their actions. As the science community continues to explore this study, are you going to continue consuming foods with artificial sweeteners.

For more information about the dangers of artificial sweeteners, please check out: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/09/17/artificial-sweeteners-may-disrupt-bodys-blood-sugar-controls/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

Genetically Altered Soybean Might Be Just What America Needs

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bequer-B100-SOJA-SOYBEAM.jpg

Soybean oil

Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs have long had an unfortunate reputation. Viewed on par with crops that make use of pesticides and other harmful chemicals, and often thought to be unhealthy. Organic farmers and magazines scorn their use and consumers think twice before purchasing products that make use of them. However, Monsanto, an extremely large and influential agriculture company that is similarly often cast in a negative light, has teamed up with DuPont Pioneer to revamp the genetic makeup of the soybean to create a bean that produces oil completely free of trans fats. It’s new fat composition is similar to that of olive oil, and it can potentially be produced on a larger scale and cheaper than it’s olive counterpart. Companies believe that this new innovation will help to improve the public image of GMOs and other biotech. As most endeavors up to this point have focused on resistance to weeds and parasites, rather than health and taste, it has been easy for consumers to create a negative view of  GMOs, but this new soybean, more consumer oriented, might help to sway that view.

The specific genetic modifications to the oil are the alteration of a gene that converts oleic fatty acids into linoleic acid. This conversion causes soybean oil to have an extremely short shelf life. The problem used to be solved by treating the oil with hydrogen gas, but this caused it to become saturated. With the gene silenced, there is no need for the hydrogen treatment, and the oil can remain unsaturated and free of trans-fats.

Genetically Modified Food? Now You Can Know For Sure.

Whole Foods Market has officially become the first grocery store to require the labeling of all genetically modified foods. In an article published by The New York Times, on Friday, March 8th, Whole Foods Market announced that they will be labeling all genetically enhanced food products.

According to Whole Foods president A. C. Gallo, the new labeling requirement was implemente due to consumer demand. Mr. Gallo stated that that their “manufacturers say they’ve seen a 15 percent increase in sales of products they have labeled.”

Today, genetically modified foods are of great abundance in the global food supply. For example, most of the corn and soybeans grown here in the United States are genetically altered. The alterations make the soybeans resistant to a herbicide used in weed control, and causes the corn to produce its own insecticide. Scientists are currently working on producing a genetically modified apple that will spoil less quickly, and genetically modified salmon that will grow faster.

What do you guys think of the position Whole Foods is taking with labeling their products? What are your thoughts on genetically modified food in general? Do you believe that genetically modified foods are safe for humans to consume? Please leave your thoughts and comments below.

 

Virtual eating: Can it really work?

Credit: vernhart flickr

Have you ever had a strong craving for a food that you know is bad for you?  For many of us, we experience strong cravings for some type of food on a daily basis.  Sometimes these cravings are so strong that the particular food we are craving becomes all we can think about or focus on until that food is consumed.  These cravings are usually triggered by something in our environment that reminds us of the specific food and they can lead to overeating.

A recent study, conducted by Carey Morewedge, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University, concluded that by imagining yourself eating a specific food, you can reduce your interest in that food and therefore eat less of it. This is known as habituation and is thought to occur naturally when we eat.  Habituation was previously thought to only occur while you are actually eating but Morewedge’s study has found that this can occur through the power of your own mind.

The answer to stopping a food craving does not come by thinking just about how the food tastes, smells and looks, but rather forcing yourself to actually imagine eating the food repeatedly.

Morewedge conducted five different studies and they all ended with the same result.  The people who imagined eating more of a specific food would want to physically eat less of that food.  In one of the experiments, 51 people were divided into three different groups. One group had to imagine inserting 30 quarters into a washing machine (this is simulating the motions of eating an M&M) and then thinking about eating three M&M’s.  The second group had to imagine putting three quarters into a washing machine and then think about eating 30 M&M’s.  The third group acted as the control and they had to imagine putting 33 quarters into a washing machine and eating no M&M’s.

The people were then given a bowl containing 1.5 ounces of M&M’s and were told to eat as many as they wanted.  When all of the participants said that they were finished the bowls were taken and weighed.  The results showed that the members of the group who virtually ate 30 M&M’s ate less actual M&M’s then the members of either of the two groups.  This proves Morewedge’s theory that thinking about eating a food has the same effects on your body as physically eating the food with none of the consequences.

If more people become aware of this study, dietary problems such as obesity and type 2 diabetes could be greatly reduced.  This study may also be the key to helping people quit smoking.

The next time you have a craving something sweet or unhealthy try imaging yourself eating it first.  You may be surprised with the results.

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