A Gut Reaction: Yeast-eating bacteria provide key to human and animal intestinal health

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As part of an international team of researchers, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's Dr. Wade Abbott of the Lethbridge Research Centre has made a "gut-wrenching" discovery: certain strains of bacteria in the human gut—Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron—have developed a taste for yeast.

The findings of the team (representing Canada, United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and Belgium)Footnote 1 have just been published in Nature, the worlds' most-cited interdisciplinary science journal. This, in itself, is no small feat for the team that includes Dr. Abbott and Professors Harry Gilbert (Newcastle University) and Eric Martens (University of Michigan): the prestigious journal is internationally acclaimed for publishing original research of the highest standard.

What makes this team's research so valuable is that the ability of these microbes to degrade the almost impenetrable wall of complex carbohydrates surrounding yeast cells, known as "mannan", may hold the key to strengthening the immune system in both humans and livestock. The bacteria eat the mannan and convert it to fatty acids that are secreted into the gut, nourishing the cells that line the gut wall.

"Conversion of indigestible carbohydrates, such as yeast mannan, into beneficial molecules for their host has been associated with combating intestinal diseases, promoting correct immune responses, and helping to maintain healthy tissues.

- Dr. Wade Abbott, Research Scientist, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

For humans, this discovery could mean the development of new probiotic medicines and treatments against yeast infections and bowel diseases such as Crohn's. Understanding the role of intestinal bacteria in livestock could result in next-generation innovations—such as alternatives to antibiotic growth promoters—potentially improving animal health and production, and thus positively impacting the safety, sustainability and profitability of Canada's agricultural sector.

Key Benefits

  • Conversion of indigestible carbohydrates, such as yeast mannan, into beneficial molecules for their host has been associated with combating intestinal diseases, promoting correct immune responses, and helping to maintain healthy tissues.
  • This discovery could mean the development of new probiotic medicines and treatments against yeast infections and bowel diseases such as Crohn's.
  • Studying the role of intestinal bacteria in livestock is an area of research that could lead to next-generation innovations (i.e. alternatives to antibiotic growth promoters) that impact the safety, sustainability, and profitability of Canadian animal agriculture.

Photo Gallery

Description of this image follows.
Dr. Wade Abbott, AAFC Research
Scientist, in the lab at the Lethbridge
Research Centre, Alberta
Description of this image follows.
Common sources of yeast mannans include bread leavened with yeast (back) and dried distiller’s grain with solubles (DDGS; front). DDGS is an agricultural residue used in animal production.

Related Information

Nature article: "Human gut Bacteroidetes can utilize yeast mannan through a selfish mechanism"

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