BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: microbes

How can we survive on raw foods out in the wild? Microbes may help.

In a recent study, Vayu Maini Rekdal was ordered to create a menu with foods that could be eaten either cooked or raw. He made chia seed breakfast puddings for volunteers who would eat the food cooked or eat the food raw. Their stool samples would then be taken so that Professor Rachel Carmody could analyze the microbes that had a role in the digestion in the different styles of food. She had previously found out that the microbiomes within mice quickly changed when they went from raw sweet potatoes to cooked sweet potatoes and she wanted to see if that rang true in humans as well.

The results of her human experiment showed that the microbiomes within the human gut changed rapidly like that of the mice once the diet was changed. However, she found that the microbiomes didn’t change drastically between raw and cooked meat, unlike the sweet potatoes. Dr. Carmody explained that it is necessary for the microbiomes to shift when eating raw sweet potatoes because it is harder for humans to digest them when they are raw and cooking them changes the types of molecules that need to be digested.

Dr. Carmody believes that the microbiomes are able to change so quickly because our ancestors might have needed to change diets quickly when they didn’t have access to a certain type of food. Even though we could be eating food that is uncooked, less tasty, and harder to eat, our gut microbes allow us to adapt to those types of food in order to stay alive. Therefore, it could be thought that our microbiomes have evolved alongside humans. However, she also found that mice are able to survive on the microbes that are found within humans, which leads some to believe that humans haven’t totally co-evolved with our microbiomes.

More research must be conducted in order to get a better understanding on the interactions between humans and their microbiomes since it is a very complex relationship. Why do you think it is important to learn more about our microbiomes? Maybe one day we can start eating foods that were previously unable to be eaten.

 

 

First step to recovery after uncontrollable wildfires: Microbes?

As we all know, wildfires all around the world, especially out west have been burning uncontrollably. They are continuing to get larger and more unpredictable. But these fires are not only affecting humans and animals, rather they have narrowed down to affecting the tiniest of forest organisms—including bacteria and fungi– and researchers are now finding that some of the microbes are “thriving”.

A study last week reported that “that populations of several bacterial and fungal species increased after severe wildfires in the boreal forests of the Northwest Territories and Alberta in Canada.” Studies like these and others such as the effect of smoke on the distribution of microbes, “give researchers a clearer picture of how wildfires change microbial communities”, and can possibly help them predict how ecosystems will recover after blazing flames. “Microbes help to maintain ecosystem health by decomposing organic matter and readying nutrients for plants to absorb”. For example, because certain fungi and bacteria have specific relationships with plants, it makes it possible to predict which nutrients will be available in an area.

Image result for wildfireIn order to test what they had predicted researchers collected samples from 62 sites about a year after 50 of them had been damaged by fire in 2014 in forests of two Canadian provinces. They found that certain bacteria in the Massilia and Arthrobacter genera were more present after than before the fires. This bacteria usually shows up in cucumber root and seed, and some researchers are predicting that there might be some growth of vegetation of that kind in the future when the forests begin to recover.

It is predicted that microbes “use fire to colonize new territory is by hitching a ride on small particles of ash or dust in plumes of smoke”. In a study published last November, Leda and her team conducted a study and found that “the microbes present in the smoke differed from those lingering in ambient air”. The microbes getting caught in the smoke she predicts can help plant growth in faraway regions.

There is a downside. It has been detected that some fungus, such as Phytophthora ramorum, cause sudden oak death. Another negative is the smoke that the firefighters, other ER personal, and people inhale after and during the fires could contain hazardous microbes. These can lead to lung problems and allergens.

Microbes are not often spoken about when wildfires sweep through, but they surprisingly have more impact than you may think. When entire ecosystems are reduced to ash, microbes determine the first step on the road to recovery.

Would you eat food made from natural gas?

Methane Gas

Every since we were little we have been told that plants are a source of food and energy created by photosynthesis.  Humans eat plants and we eat animals that eat plants.  This is how energy is passed on, but what if I told you there was a way to get energy not from plants but from gas?  Seems kind of gross, right?

Michael Le Page wrote an article on the biotechnology company, Calysta, that has been working to use natural gas as forms of food for different animals.   They experiment with creating feed for farmed fish.  The process of creating this feed requires microbes that are put in a big area with methane.  Microbes feed off the methane and convert the digested methane into energy.  At the biotechnology company they specifically used a type of bacteria called Methlyococcus capsulatus which feeds off of the methane.  This process releases energy that can then be combined with other molecules to create food.  What is the point of this process?

This process of creating energy and food in a different way compared to photosynthesis has both positive and negative effects.  The reason for preforming such a strategy is to decrease a demand for land use (for example all of the farms used to grow plants and other crops), and to lower the amount of water used.  Another positive is the way in which methane is being used to create this feed.  Normally, in order to rid of methane it is just burned, but the way in which it is used for microbes to feed on it is much more productive and less wasteful.  Methane is a green house gas and is bad for the environment.  Instead of just burning it these studies have shown that it can be a useful source of food.  On the negative side using methane gas to produce energy results in the emission a lot of CO2.  CO2 is a also a greenhouse gas that increases the earths temperature, and adds to the problem of global warming.

Fish Farm

This process of creating feed when microbes convert methane to food has been pretty successful; some farm animals are eating this feed.  You never know, maybe one day humans will be eating food made from natural gases.  It really depends on where the world puts its priorities due to both negative and positive outcomes of the process.  What do you think is our most important priority?  Should factories go ahead and make this feed, despite the high levels of CO2 released?

 

 

Fat lies: Did you inherit your body?

While obesity is typically attributed to over eating and a lack of exercise, researchers at Kings College London have identified a type of gut bacteria, called Christensenellacae, which influences a person’s genetic makeup and body weight. The study focused on fecal samples from 416 pairs of twins. Of these participants, identical twins had a larger abundance of the gene microbe than fraternal twins suggesting that the bacteria is highly heritable. Furthermore, researchers found that Christensenallacae is most common in the intestines of lean people and in experiments with mice they determined that this microbe alone promoted thinner mice. Thus far, research results suggest that a person’s genes influence his body weight by determining the types of bacteria that live in his intestines and that altering the Christensenallacae population could have a direct impact on his susceptibility to obesity. This research gives a very important window into the study of obesity prevention and gut microbes. Although the information is groundbreaking, further studies need to be conducted to determine if altering levels of this gut microbe is actually effective.

As researchers continue to expand their study, how do you think this discovery will be used in the future to combat obesity?

weight loss by pixabay

weight loss by pixabay

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