Magazine article Science News

Gut Microbes and Carbs Fuel Tumors: Sugar-Loving Bacteria Play a Role in Mice's Colon Cancer

Magazine article Science News

Gut Microbes and Carbs Fuel Tumors: Sugar-Loving Bacteria Play a Role in Mice's Colon Cancer

Article excerpt

Westerners' carb-rich diets have long been linked to high levels of colorectal cancer, and scientists have begun to work out why. In an experiment in mice, a chemical made by carbohydrate-consuming gut bacteria encouraged the growth of colon cancer, researchers report in the July 17 Cell.

In country after country where people have switched to Western-style diets heavy in refined sugars such as high fructose corn syrup, the incidence of colorectal cancer has increased, says Scott Bultman, a geneticist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who was not involved in the study. Until now, the underlying connection between food and the disease has been cloudy. "This study gives a good mechanism for how diet is tied to colon cancer," Bultman says.

The researchers studied mice engineered with two genetic mutations often linked to colon cancer in people. One of the mutations derails a cell's ability to fix errors that arise during DNA replication. A deficiency in fixing these errors causes cells in the lining of the colon to divide quickly, says study leader Alberto Martin, an immunologist at the University of Toronto.

Martin's team discovered that a chemical produced by carb-feasting microbes appears to exacerbate the unchecked growth of colon cells lacking this type of DNA repair, which may lead to tumors.

Feeding the engineered mice a diet low in sugar and starch reduced the growth of malignant lumps of cells called polyps in the lining of their colon and small intestine, the team found. …

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