Insights into gut microbiome research in the 13th Finnish Gut Day

Hannele Kettunen, R&D Manager

The 13th Finnish Gut Day seminar was arranged in Biomedicum 1 at the University of Helsinki on 23rd January, 2020. The yearly seminar, organized by Prof Willem de Vos and Dr. Anne Salonen, offered again an impressive set of lectures on gut microbiome research in Finland and abroad, as well as an opportunity for networking with fellow scientists.

Although the focus of this seminar is in human health, it gathers also veterinarians and animal scientists, because the major patterns of host-microbiota interactions are similar in all vertebrates. This state-of-the-art of gut microbiome research event is a source of ideas for future R&D projects of Hankkija Finnish Feed Innovations. It also offered a possibility to discuss our own resin acid studies both with existing collaborators and with new potential research partners.

The first speaker of the day was Prof Tine Rask Licht from the National Food Institute of the Technical University of Denmark. Her topic was the microbial colonization of neonatal gut: how the microbes get into the gut and what determines their ability to proliferate and be competitive there. While the first major contact to microbes occurs during birth, diet and environment have key roles in intestinal microbial diversity. She had for example identified the presence and number of older siblings as major influencer of microbial diversity in the gut of a new baby. 

Dr. Nicola Segata, associate professor and principal investigator of the Computational Metagenomics lab of the University of Trento, Italy, emphasized studying microbes at the strain level. Bacteria, such as the familiar E. coli, come in many strains with very different qualities. For diagnostic purposes and also for ecological analysis, the ability to differentiate between commensal and pathogenic strains is a necessity. At present, the analysis of microbial communities to this level of detail is restricted mainly by the computational force needed for analyzing the metagenomic data. As the processing capacity of computers is ever increasing, these techniques will eventually allow a much more detailed understanding of host-microbiota interactions than what we have seen this far.

Dr. Robert Sprenger from Nestle Research talked about the function of oligosaccharides in milk. Human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) are a peculiar group of molecules that resemble sugar structures in the intestinal epithelium. All mammalian species produce oligosaccharides into milk for helping the offspring to establish a health-promoting gut microbiota, but the concentration and diversity of these molecules is higher in human than animal milk. It has been suggested that these molecules nurture microbes, which produce metabolites that are vital for brain development and human intelligence. 

Fecal microbial transplants (FMTs) have become a routine treatment of recurrent cases of Clostridium difficile diarrhea, a potentially life-threatening condition. At present, the efficacy of FMTs on type 1 diabetes, and also on metabolic syndrome. Promising early results of these trials were presented by Prof Willem de Vos (in the picture below) from the University of Helsinki. It is remarkable if the development of these conditions can be slowed down “just” by introducing a health-promoting microbiota into the gut of the patient.

Prof Willem de Vos giving a lecture on microbial therapies of the future