Any disruption of the gut leads to gastro intestinal diseases. While the role of gut microbes has been the focus of research, scientists at the National Centre for Cell Science (NCCS) have succeeded in revealing the unique features of the gut microbiota of Indians.
“Our findings are specially significant and urge the government to set up a national initiative along the lines of the United States. On Wednesday, the US announced the launch of the National Microbiome Initiative (NMI)-an ambitious plan to better understand the microbes that live in humans, animals, crops, soils and oceans,” says Dr Yogesh Shouche, senior scientist at NCCS.
In addition, scientists and medical professionals from KEM Hospital Research Centre, Pune; Vadu Health Program, Pune and AIIMS, New Delhi participated in the study that also found the gut of Indians was way different from Americans but closer to Bangladeshi neighbours.
“Our work was recently published in Frontiers in Microbiology,” Shouche said, explaining that the structure of the gut has been explained earlier, but now the unique features of gut microbiota in Indians have been revealed.
“We harbour a microbial world within us. Most parts of our body are teaming with microbes and these include the gut, mouth and skin to name a few. We acquire them from our mothers during birth, pass on to us through the breast milk and live with us till we die. Hence it is important to know what they do to us,” Shouche further said.
“We now know that they help us in the maintenance of our general well being and are strongly affected by factors such as age, dietary habits, socio-economic status, geographic location and genetic makeup of individuals. By using a special method called 16S amplicon sequencing, we were able to show that the gut microbiota of Indians is enriched with bacteria such as Prevotella and Megasphaera,” Shouche added.
PhD scholars Shrikant Bhute and Pranav Pande, and scientist Dhiraj Dhotre from MCC-NCCS were part of the team who performed detailed bioinformatics analysis of complex microbial communities and also compared them with the gut microbiota of other populations.
One of the interesting observation from the study was that the gut microbiota of Indians was very different from American and other populations of the world, but very similar to our close neighbour-the Bangladeshi population.
“Diet can be one of the many factors which influence gut microbial communities. In addition, other factors such as genetic makeup and current practices could also have contributed to these observed differences,” said Bhute.
“Genus Prevotella are known for their ability to degrade complex plant polysaccharides, and thus, its high abundance in Indian gut microbiota could be a result of the nature of Indian diet, which is primarily rich in plant-derived preparations. In addition, a bacterium-Megasphaera-which has been isolated by us from the gut of Indians, has the ability to produce short chain fatty acids viz. propionate, acetate, butyrate and vitamins like cyanocobalamin-all of which are known to confer several health benefits to humans”, said Pande.
Dhotre said, “We further compared the Indian gut microbiota with other non-human primates with varied dietary habits, and it turned out to be very similar to animals following omnivorous diet”. This further strengthens the fact this could be because of typically mixed dietary habits (vegetarian and non-vegetarian) of Indians, he added.
Shouche said, “Although the study was carried out on a limited number of subjects, we are excited to undertake the large-cohort studies to characterise the gut microbial communities in a much deeper way to have a more holistic view of the Indian gut microbiome and its health implications”.
This would be useful in designing the medical intervention strategies in treatment of various disorders both inside and outside the gastrointestinal tract for which an effective regime is not available, Shouche added. The research has been funded by the Union government’s Department of Biotechnology and MCC project.