MBL Imaging Technology Reveals Organization of Gut Bacteria

Bacteria identified in the gnotobiotic mouse colon by fluorescence in situ hybridization. The study revealed a mixed community of bacteria in the gut, rather than species congregating spatially in clusters. Photo by Jessica Mark Welch and Yuko Hasegawa, MBL.

WOODS HOLE – Disturbances in the microbiome of the human stomach are linked to different diseases, including obesity and cancer and researchers are studying the spatial organization of the nearly 1,000 species of bacteria which reside in the gut.

Scientists from the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, the Forsyth Institute and Washington University in Saint Louis have published a collaborative study last week in “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” after establishing a simplified model human gut microbiome in germ-free mice.

The study revealed the organization of 15 bacterial species typically abundant in the human gut using imaging technologies developed at the MBL.

Jessica Mark Welch, the lead author of the study, said researchers thought they would see clusters of bacteria, with some species gathering around food particles and others being abundant in the mucus layer of the gut.

Instead the imaging revealed a mixed community, where each bacterial cell tended to reside next to cells of a different species.

Welch said this suggests the host organism is mixing the microbes and preventing large clusters of single types of bacteria from forming, creating an evolutionarily stable microbial community.

Studying the spatial organization of microbiomes is a new field of study that the MBL is pioneering through their imaging technology.

The study in the gut contrasts with results in a prior study of human dental plaque, which saw highly organized groupings of bacterial species.

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