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The Daily Need

Gut feelings: Intestinal bacteria identified

Our guts may be residence to one of three bacterial communities, regardless of our age, gender or ethnicity.

Researchers have identified three communities, or enterotypes, of intestinal microbes, each populated by a specific genus of bacteria: Bacteroides, Ruminococcus and Prevotella. Published this week in Nature, the study examined fecal samples from people on three different continents and found “three robust clusters that are not nation or continent specific.”

It’s all part of a larger work in progress to create a gene catalog of human microbes, and to examine the roles these bacteria might play in our health. The bulk of our microbes live in our gut, where they’ve been associated – when imbalanced – with autoimmune disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, allergies and obesity. Identifying these bacterial communities can lead to further insights about the causes and treatments of these diseases.

But possible meanings behind these differing enterotypes are yet to be determined. As Mani Arumugam, a geneticist at the European Molecular Biological Laboratory, told Wired: “There are hundreds of questions that need to be explored. Why these three? What’s special about them? Is it only these three, or are there more?”

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