Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Waste Helps Control Weight

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Waste Helps Control Weight

Article excerpt

A single molecule in the intestinal wall, activated by the waste products from gut bacteria, plays a large role in controlling whether the host animals are lean or fatty, a research team, including scientists from University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center, has found. When activated, the molecule slows the movement of food through the intestine, allowing the animal to absorb more nutrients and thus gain weight. Without this signal, the animal weighs less.

The mouse study shows that the host can use bacterial byproducts not only as a source of nutrients, but also as chemical signals to regulate body functions. It also points the way to a potential method of controlling weight, the researchers say. "It is quite possible that blocking this receptor molecule in the intestine might fight a certain kind of obesity by blocking absorption of energy from the gut," says Masashi Yanagisawa, professor of molecular genetics at UT Southwestern Medical Center and a senior coauthor of the study, which appears online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Humans, like other animals, have a large and varied population of beneficial bacteria that live in the intestines. The bacteria break up large molecules that the host cannot digest. The host in turn absorbs many of the resulting small molecules for energy and nutrients. "The number of bacteria in our gut far exceeds the total number of cells in our bodies," says Yanagisawa. "It is truly a mutually beneficial relationship. …

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