An EU-funded project has developed new tools that enable more extensive and rapid analysis of our gut microbiota than has been possible earlier.
The new methods are based on the unique genetical codes each microbe contains. The project, called 'Microbe Diagnostics', has developed 16 new testing devices, so-called oligonucleotide probes. These probes are able to describe a more varied set of organisms that live in our microbiota than previously has been recognised by scientific methods.
With these methods, researchers involved in the project have found previously unfamiliar bacteria present in the human gastrointestinal tract. A further improvement in this methodology is applying flow cytometry, which can rapidly analyse a large number of samples reliably.
Developing the tools in order to expand on the relatively little current knowledge about the variety of different organisms that live in our microbiota, the researchers said there seemed to be great variety among people, but the significance of this variation was not yet known. The methods used until now have also been slow to apply.
"This lack of basic understanding is an obstacle if we want to modify the microbiota and increase the amount of beneficial microbes and find relationships between gut microbiota and diseases," said the project organisers.
However, learning to know what the microbes are is not enough, claimed the researchers, adding that we also have to learn what their function is in the body. New knowledge could be used to identify the components of normal gut microbiota that may play a part in onset of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
"With this enhanced knowledge we may be able to prevent the disease or improve its treatment with beneficial probiotic microbes."