Study identifies processes in the gut that drive fat build-up around the waist

May 28, 2018, King's College London
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Research by scientists at King's College London into the role the gut plays in processing and distributing fat could pave the way for the development of personalised treatments for obesity and other chronic diseases within the next decade. The research is published in Nature Genetics.

In the largest study of its kind, scientists analysed the faecal metabolome (the community of chemicals produced by gut in the faeces) of 500 pairs of twins to build up a picture of how the gut governs these processes and distributes fat. The King's team also assessed how much of that activity is genetic and how much is determined by environmental factors.

The analysis of stool samples identified biomarkers for the build-up of internal fat around the waist. It's well known that this visceral fat is strongly associated with the development of conditions including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

By understanding how microbial chemicals lead to the development of fat around the waist in some, but not all the twins, the King's team hopes to also advance the understanding of the very similar mechanisms that drive the development of obesity.

An analysis of faecal metabolites ( molecules in stool produced by microbes) found that less than a fifth (17.9 per cent) of gut processes could be attributed to hereditary factors, but 67.7 per cent of gut activity was found to be influenced by environmental factors, mainly a person's regular diet.

This means that important changes can be made to the way an individual's gut processes and distributes fat by altering both their diet and microbial interactions in their gut.

On the back of the study researchers have built a gut metabolome bank that can help other scientists engineer bespoke and ideal gut environments that efficiently process and distribute fat. The study has also generated the first comprehensive database of which microbes are associated with which chemical metabolites in the gut. This can help other scientists to understand how bacteria in the gut affect human health.

Lead investigator Dr. Cristina Menni from King's College London said: 'This study has really accelerated our understanding of the interplay between what we eat, the way it is processed in the gut and the development of fat in the body, but also immunity and inflammation. By analysing the faecal metabolome, we have been able to get a snapshot of both the health of the body and the complex processes taking place in the gut.'

Head of the King's College London's Twin Research Group Professor Tim Spector said: 'This exciting work in our twins shows the importance to our health and weight of the thousands of chemicals that gut microbes produce in response to food. Knowing that they are largely controlled by what we eat rather than our genes is great news, and opens up many ways to use food as medicine. In the future these chemicals could even be used in smart toilets or as smart toilet paper.'

Dr. Jonas Zierer, first author of the study added: 'This new knowledge means we can alter the gut environment and confront the challenge of obesity from a new angle that is related to modifiable factors such as diet and the microbes in the gut. This is exciting, because unlike our genes and our innate risk to develop fat around the belly, the can be modified with probiotics, with drugs or with high fibre diets.'

Explore further: New link between gut microbiome and artery hardening discovered

More information: Jonas Zierer et al, The fecal metabolome as a functional readout of the gut microbiome, Nature Genetics (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41588-018-0135-7

Related Stories

New link between gut microbiome and artery hardening discovered

May 10, 2018
The level of diversity of the 'good bacteria' in our digestive systems has been found to be linked to a feature of cardiovascular disease – hardening of the arteries – in new research by experts at the University of Nottingham ...

Gut microbes may affect heart disease risk – first study in humans

May 10, 2018
Research has shown that having the right gut microbes can reduce the risk of heart disease – if you're a mouse. Now, our latest study, published in the European Heart Journal, shows that this might be true for humans, too.

Body weight heavily influenced by microbes in the gut, finds twin study

November 6, 2014
Our genetic makeup influences whether we are fat or thin by shaping which types of microbes thrive in our body, according to a study by researchers at King's College London and Cornell University.

Study finds link between fecal bacteria and body fat

September 30, 2016
Researchers at King's College London have found a new link between the diversity of bacteria in human poo – known as the human fecal microbiome - and levels of abdominal body fat.

Genetics play a significant role in immunity, new research finds

January 5, 2017
Nearly three quarters of immune traits are influenced by genes, new research from King's College London reveals.

Gut bacteria can help to predict how the body will respond to fatty foods

July 5, 2017
Chemical signatures from gut bacteria which show up in urine can be used to predict how the body will respond to a 'junk' diet.

Recommended for you

Study reveals broad 'genetic architectures' of traits and diseases

August 13, 2018
Scientists at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have developed a powerful method for characterizing the broad patterns of genetic contributions to traits and diseases. The new method provides a "big picture" ...

Researchers predict risk for common deadly diseases from millions of genetic variants

August 13, 2018
A research team at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), and Harvard Medical School reports a new kind of genome analysis that could identify large fractions of the population who have ...

Genetic tools uncover cause of childhood seizure disorder missed by other methods

August 13, 2018
Early childhood seizures result from a rare disease that begin in the first months of life. Researchers at University of Utah Health have developed high-tech tools to uncover the genetic cause of the most difficult to diagnose ...

Evolutionary changes in the human brain may have led to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia

August 9, 2018
The same aspects of relatively recent evolutionary changes that make us prone to bad backs and impacted third molars may have generated long, noncoding stretches of DNA that predispose individuals to schizophrenia, bipolar ...

Genetic mutation underlying severe childhood brain disorder identified

August 9, 2018
Ashleigh Schaffer, Ph.D., assistant professor of genetics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and a team of global genetics experts have discovered a genetic mutation and the faulty development process ...

Unexpected outcomes sound warning for treatment of genetic diseases using gene editing in embryos

August 9, 2018
New research led by the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) and the University of Adelaide has uncovered a significant hurdle for realising the potential benefits of gene editing in embryos.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.