The millions of tiny microbes within a human body—collectively termed the body’s microbiome—could affect how genes are expressed, according to a new study by Duke researchers.
In the study published in the journal Genome Research, scientists determined that the presence of microbes reduces the activity of a transcription factor and protein known as HNF4A. This factor plays a role in inflammatory bowel diseases and diabetes, so the discovery may help lead to the development of new treatments.
“Our microbiome is known to influence many different aspects of our health, and they achieve this in part by affecting the activity of our genes,” said senior author John Rawls, associate professor of molecular genetics and microbiology in the Medical School. “Here, we discovered a new mechanism by which the microbiome turns host genes on and off in the intestine.”
Lead author and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill graduate student James Davison noted that the complexity of the microbiome can make it a difficult area to research. The community of cells inside the body’s intestine—including bacteria, fungi, viruses and human intestinal cells—are all communicating with one another in many different ways, he explained. Diet can also affect the signaling between these cells.
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