A new study provided insights about the interaction between bacteria and mucus building mucins - proteins that have sugars associated with them - and how the specificity of these interactions affects health.
Dr Nathalie Juge and her team at the IFR have shown that the ability to use mucins in the human gut varies between different gut bacteria strains.
The IFR researchers looked at Ruminococcus gnavus. This is a common species of gut bacteria found in over 90 percent of people, including infants just a few days old. It has also been implicated in gut-related health conditions.
A number of studies have shown that patients suffering from Inflammatory Bowel Diseases have a disproportionate representation of R. gnavus.
This study looked at two different R. gnavus strains. Although both R. gnavus strains can use mucins, only one had the ability to survive when mucins were the sole source of food.
Comparing the genomes of the R. gnavus strains identified gene clusters used to breakdown mucins. Differences in these genes explain the different abilities of the strains to use mucins.
The mucin sugar structures change in different parts of the gut and over time, suggesting the strains may be adapted for different environments or to colonise us at different times.
A better understanding of which strains use mucins and exactly how they do this will give us new insights into what makes a healthy gut bacteria population, and how fluctuations from this might link to gut diseases like Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.
The study has been published in the journal PLOS ONE.