Listening in on Bug-Gut Chatter

Now, for the first time, scientists from Harvard Medical School have managed to “listen in” on the crosstalk between individual microbes and the entire cast of immune cells and genes expressed in the gut.

The experiments, published Feb. 16 in Cell, provide a blueprint for identifying important microbial influencers of disease and health and can help scientists develop precision-targeted treatments.

Past research has looked at links between disease and the presence or absence of certain classes of bacteria in the gut. By contrast, the HMS team homed in on one microbe at a time and its effects on nearly all immune cells and intestinal genes, an approach that offers a more precise understanding of the interplay between individual gut microbes and their hosts. Beyond that, the team said, the approach could help scientists screen for molecules or bacterial strains that can be used therapeutically to fine-tune certain immune responses.

“We set out to map out interactions between bacteria and the immune system in the hope that this could eventually lead to the development of an apothecary of agents tailored to modulate the immune system selectively and precisely,” said senior investigator Dennis Kasper, professor of medicine and microbiology and immunobiology at HMS. Rest