New research suggests that manipulating the kinds of bacteria that live in the gut might lead to a new way to treat millions of children suffering from chronic malnutrition. Key takeaways from the studies published in Science and Cell.
—What they did: Researchers culled intestinal bacteria from babies and toddlers in Malawi, where malnutrition is a serious problem, and transferred them into mice for study.
—The findings: Healthy microbes can help get the most out of a poor diet. Animals with the better kind grew better, even though they didn't eat more, or more nutritiously.
—Why gut bacteria: Gut bacteria do more than simply break down food for digestion. They synthesize particular vitamins and micronutrients, and influence immune responses, for example.
—How do you alter gut bacteria: In the U.S., doctors sometimes perform fecal transplants to alter the gut bacteria of patients suffering certain intestinal diseases. When it comes to malnutrition, the goal would be to build healthy gut bacteria from the start. Researchers are exploring nutrients in breast milk.
—What's next: More research is needed before the approach can be tested in children.