Researchers have identified the sequence of genes that help bacteria living in our stomach to break down dietary fiber found in fruits and vegetables.
The findings of the study, conducted by University of British Columbia researchers, illuminate the specialized roles played by key members of the vast gut bacterium, and could inform the development of tailored microbiota transplants to improve intestinal health after antibiotic use or illness.
Senior author of the study and UBC professor Harry Brumer said that while they are vital to our diet, the long chains of natural polymeric carbohydrates that make up dietary fibre are impossible for humans to digest without the aid of our resident bacteria.
Brumer asserted that the newly discovered sequence of genes enables Bacteroides ovatus and its complex system of enzymes to chop up xyloglucan, a major type of dietary fibre found in many vegetables - from lettuce leaves to tomato fruits.
About 92 per cent of the population harbours bacteria with a variant of the gene sequence, according to the researchers' survey of public genome data from 250 adult humans.
The study is published in the journal Nature.