Genetically modified bacteria can stop us from overeating, and thus prevent obesity


Anti-obesity measures are nothing new in the realm of health-dom; but most of them do tend to fall flat because of their concerted nature that doesn’t comply with the natural microbiome of our bodies. By this term ‘microbiome’ we obviously mean our internal ecosystem that consists of a host of pathogenic and symbiotic microorganisms (including bacteria). And this time around, scientists may have potentially found a solution – with their genetically engineered variety of fat-fighting bacteria that can take up residence inside our body. To that end, a group of researchers at the Vanderbilt University have modified a strain of E. coli, and then had it tested on mice. The results were encouraging, with the bacteria having a favorable effect for around 6 weeks inside the animal’s gut.

In terms of its working scope, the engineered bacteria was embedded with a gene for N-acyl-phosphatidylethanolamines. These molecules aid in generating an appetite-suppressing compound that leads to the wholesome effect of ‘feeling full’ after consuming food. Interestingly, this compound is supposed to be produced naturally by our intestines, but is still secreted in scarce quantities for some people. This creates a sensation (or rather ‘craving’) for more food, in spite of actually fulfilling their biological need for food (energy). In other words, these people tend to ‘overeat’ after being ‘full’ – thus leading to overweight or obese conditions.

As for the tests, the bacteria was delivered to the mice by simply adding it to water. The results showed that the mice treated with the bacteria showed a substantial 15 percent less weight than mice that were not treated with the bacteria – with both animal groups being fed a high-fat diet. But of course, the ambit of this project is still limited to mice, with some predicaments that need to be solved before advancing further. The primary one among these problems relates to how the engineered E. coli can survive inside our microbiome without facing competition from the other natural microbes. Moreover, the appetite-suppressing compound can be accidentally harmful for a few people who are known to have medical conditions.

In that regard, the scientists are looking forth to create ‘fail safe’ mechanisms that can allow the beneficial ingestion of the bacteria in all human beings. More importantly, engineered microbes can play a greater role that is not just limited to preventing obesity. They can also be used as resident drug ‘factories’ inside our body to combat other health issues, ranging from diabetes to high-blood pressure.

Source: MITTechnologyReview

Image Credit: CDC

Note* – The featured image is not of the genetically modified bacteria being discussed in this article.

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