Research ArticleGenomics

The Impact of a Consortium of Fermented Milk Strains on the Gut Microbiome of Gnotobiotic Mice and Monozygotic Twins

Science Translational Medicine  26 Oct 2011:
Vol. 3, Issue 106, pp. 106ra106
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3002701

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A Yogurt a Day…

We all enjoy a tasty yogurt and believe that the bacterial species contained in this type of fermented milk product will keep us healthy. But how much influence do the microbes in these products have on our gut microbiomes and consequently our health, and are these effects generalizable to different human populations consuming different diets? These questions are of concern to regulatory agencies who are increasing pressure on manufacturers to validate the health claims of various foods, including yogurts. McNulty and his colleagues, in an exciting new study, describe a way to evaluate their effects on the human gut microbiome.

First, they studied the effects of consuming a popular yogurt on the gut microbiomes of seven healthy adult female identical twin pairs. The bacterial and gene composition, as well as the gene expression patterns, of their gut microbial communities were analyzed before, during, and after consumption of the yogurt. These results were compared to those obtained in gnotobiotic mice that were first reared under conditions where the only microbes they harbored were 15 prominent, sequenced human gut bacterial symbionts, after which time they were exposed to the same 5 bacterial strains as those contained in the yogurt.

McNulty and colleagues found during repeated sampling of the gut microbiomes of the twins over a 4-month period that the species and gene content of their gut microbial communities remained stable and were not appreciably perturbed by consuming the yogurt. After exposure of the humanized mice to the five bacterial strains in the fermented milk product, the researchers showed that the mice did not exhibit marked changes in the proportional representation of their human symbiotic bacterial species or genes, mirroring the results seen in the twins. However, analysis of gut bacterial gene expression profiles and of urinary metabolites in these mice disclosed that introducing the fermented milk product strains resulted in marked changes in a number of metabolic pathways, most prominently those related to carbohydrate processing. These latter findings helped direct follow-up studies of the twins’ gut samples where they found similar changes in metabolism as those observed in mice.

These findings show that mice containing a sequenced model human gut microbiome can serve as part of a preclinical discovery pipeline designed to identify the effects of existing or new bacterial species with purported health benefits on the properties of the human gut microbiome. Although it remains unclear whether eating a yogurt a day will keep the doctor away, the study by McNulty and his colleagues paves the way for future work to analyze in more detail the direct effects of consuming foods containing bacterial species with potential health benefits on the gut microbiomes of various human populations.


  • * These authors contributed equally to this work.

  • Present address: Section of Microbial Pathogenesis and Microbial Diversity Institute, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06536, USA.

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