The gut microbiota plays an important role in the development of many human dietary related disorders such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. The link between microbial diversity and metabolic functionality is far from clear and although the products of metabolism are considered to have an important impact on immune function and inflammation, the metabolites and the bacteria responsible for their formation are mostly unknown.
Tremendous advances have been made towards determining the genetic identity of the many commensal organisms that colonise the human gut and work at the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health has generated a unique collection of human colonic bacteria, many genome-sequenced through international projects. Research from our laboratory has identified key molecular transformations performed by these bacterial isolates and this is allowing us achieve our overall aim; to elucidate the complex interplay between diet, the intestinal microbiota and health.
Through tightly controlled human dietary interventions we have shown that high-protein (animal-based), diets have detrimental consequences for gut health if used in the longer-term, and that replacement of animal protein with an energy equivalent amount of plant protein ameliorated this risk.1 As we look towards the use of plant products to support global protein production by partially replacing meat and dairy products in the human diet, an understanding of how these products are metabolised by the gut microbiota becomes essential.
1. Russell, W.R. et al American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 93 (5):1062-1072