Posts Tagged ‘microbial gene’

Cholesterol-busting gut bacteria affect people’s cardiac health

Reporter: Irina Robu, PhD

Scientists at Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University, has discovered a group a gut bacterium that can metabolize enough cholesterol to affect metabolism. Their study in Cell Host and Microbe, found that bacteria in the intestines have lower cholesterol levels in their blood. Cholesterol is a key biological molecule that functions as a structural component of all animal cell membranes and is a precursor of steroid hormones, vitamin D, and bile acids. Two main sources of cholesterol are thought to influence concentrations of this metabolite in serum: endogenous cholesterol synthesized in the liver and exogenous cholesterol derived from dietary components of animal origin.

The study shows a roadmap of how enzymes and microbial genes can manipulate metabolism and impact human health. The concept that bacteria can metabolize cholesterol is been known for a long time, but not enough has been known of which species of bacteria was doing this. However, isolating cholesterol metabolizing bacteria and growing them in the lab proved to be difficult.

The idea that bacteria can metabolize cholesterol isn’t a new one; in the early 1900s, scientists reported the existence of bacteria that could chemically transform cholesterol into a compound called coprostanol. Coprostanol-generating bacteria have been found in the guts of rats, baboons, pigs, and even humans, but the biology of these bacteria was poorly understood.

The scientists genetically engineered bacteria in the lab to produce genetically engineered bacteria in the lab to produce four enzymes of interest. Yet, they focused on one gene named Intestinal Stool Metabolism (IsmA) that could metabolize cholesterol. Furthermore, individuals with the IsmA gene had, on average, cholesterol levels in the blood that were 2.7 mg/dL lower than those without any copies of the IsmA genes in their microbiomes. This is a larger average effect on blood cholesterol than human genes such as HMGCR and PCSK9, which are known to alter a person’s risk of high cholesterol levels and are targeted by some FDA-approved cholesterol drugs.



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