The faculty of health and medical sciences from the University of Copenhagen have developed a ground-breaking technique that can assist to disentangle the secrets of the human intestinal microbes.
The intestines and their bacteria are sometimes called our ‘second brain’, but studying these bacteria in their natural environment is difficult. Now researchers have developed a method that uses artificial intelligence to map intestinal bacteria using feces. The researchers thus hope to gain more knowledge of the role played by these bacteria in various diseases.
Both past and present-day scientists have suspected the intestines of playing a role in various diseases. Present-day studies focus on the intestinal flora’s role in physical diseases such as diabetes and overweight, while others seek to establish a connection between the intestinal flora and e.g. autism, schizophrenia, and depression. But even modern-day scientists have difficulties studying the around 500-1000 different species among the approx. 100 billion active bacteria in our intestines.
Aside from working together with the immune system in vital cooperation, imbalance in the intestinal bacteria composition is the cause of chronic disease of the alimentary tract of which 50,000 Danes suffer.
In recent years scientists have discovered that bacteria have a great impact on the body. A lot of research is being done within this field, but still all the bacteria are not identified in and on the human body.
“Knowledge of the bacteria is vital if we are to understand what is going on. That is where our technique can make a difference”, says Associate Professor Simon Rasmussen, who together with his team of researchers at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research is responsible for the new study, the results of which have just been published in Nature Biotechnology.
‘The presence of bacteria is vital to the immune system, and this is true not least of intestinal bacteria. But the problem is that it is very difficult to study intestinal bacteria in their natural environment, which they often deeply depend on in order to survive,” Rasmussen added.
Now, researchers have developed a method that uses artificial intelligence to identify the bacteria found in and on the human body. This will give an idea of how they work together and what happens when one falls ill.
Instead of studying the bacteria inside the intestines, the researchers have analysed the intestines’ ultimate by-product: faeces.
Faeces contain remains of the bacteria that have helped metabolise the food in the stomach and intestines and thus offer unique insight into an otherwise inaccessible environment. So far technology has only allowed researchers to read fragments of the bacteria’s’ DNA which is equivalent to doing a puzzle with only a fraction of the pieces.
Therefore, Simon Rasmussen and his team of researchers have developed an algorithm that uses artificial intelligence to complete the DNA strings of bacteria in faeces. And now researchers from all over the world can help finish the puzzle.
‘One gram of faeces contains around a billion bacteria of 500-1000 different kinds. If we are able to reconstruct their DNA, it will give us an idea of the types of bacteria we are dealing with, what they are capable of and what they actually do. It is not the complete picture, but it is a huge step forward. And our algorithm is available to other researcher and free to use”, he said.
According to Rasmussen, the ability of artificial intelligence to analyse the bacterial content of very small samples may also be used to study other substances than faeces.
Aside from the article on the algorithm, the team has several other studies in the pipeline demonstrating the use of their technology.
Follow more stories on Facebook and Twitter
This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.
SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON