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Centenarians have unique gut bugs that keep them going

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Japanese researchers have found that people over the age of 100 have greater numbers of unique gut bugs which the researchers suggest help the centenarians to live longer by stopping the growth of other more dangerous kinds of bacteria that cause disease. The team say these friendly gut bugs produce unique anti-microbial bile acids, and are found to be more abundant in the gut of people aged over 100 than people under 100. The researchers suggest that it may be possible to exploit the bile-acid-metabolizing capabilities of these good bacteria for the health benefits they provide. However, they add that further studies are needed to confirm the link between bile acids and longevity.

Journal/conference: Nature

Link to research (DOI): 10.1038/s41586-021-03832- 5

Organisation/s: Keio University School of Medicine, Japan

Funder: Centenarian study was funded by the Japan Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (M.S.), and Keio Global Research Institute (Y.A. and N.H.). The elderly recruitment study was funded by a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (No: 18H03055) from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and JST Research Complex Program (JP15667051). D.R.P. and R.J.X. were funded by Center for the Study of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (DK043351), Center for Microbiome informatics and Therapeutics (CMIT) and AT009708. Y.S. was supported by the Terumo Life Science Foundation.

Media release

From: Springer Nature

Microbiology: Gut microbe metabolism implicated in longevity

In people over the age of 100, an enrichment in a distinct set of gut microbes that can generate unique bile acids might contribute to longevity by inhibiting the growth of gut pathogens. This finding is published online this week in Nature. The study, which compares the gut microbes of centenarians, elderly individuals and younger people in Japan, raises the possibility of manipulating the bile acid pool for health benefits.

The community of microbes in our gut has a role in our health, and changes as we age. Centenarians are less susceptible to age-related chronic diseases and infection than are elderly individuals below the age of 100. It is thought that the composition of the gut microbiota in centenarians may be associated with extreme longevity, but the mechanisms have been unclear.

To probe the potential link between microbiota composition and longevity, Kenya Honda and colleagues studied 3 groups of Japanese people: 160 centenarians (aged over 100 years old), 112 elderly individuals (aged 85–89 years old) and 47 younger individuals (aged 21–55 years old). They found that, compared with elderly and young individuals, centenarians are enriched in gut microbes that are capable of generating unique secondary bile acids through novel biosynthetic pathways. The authors identify a range of bacteria responsible for producing these bile acids, and map the pathway that leads to the production of isoallo-lithocholic acid (isoalloLCA). IsoalloLCA is shown to have antimicrobial effects against a range of gut pathogens. Experiments in mice suggest that isoalloLCA can inhibit the growth of Clostridium difficile — a bacterium that can cause severe diarrhoea, especially in people who are being treated with antibiotics.

The authors suggest that it may be possible to exploit the bile-acid-metabolizing capabilities of bacterial strains identified in this study to manipulate the bile acid pool for health benefits. However, they add that further studies are needed to validate the association between bile acids and longevity.

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