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Fungi in Humans Linked With Obesity

S u m m a r y :
Changes in fungi residing in the human gut might be involved in the development of metabolic problems like obesity, says a new study published in the journal mSphere.

The Micro-World Inside of Humans

We are not alone—our body cells are in close proximity with foreign cells, that is, other organisms, which form the gut microbiome. This micro-world (the living things living in the human gut) is known to generate a number of effects on the body, from good to bad. Skin bacteria, for example, will protect us from harmful bacteria, while gut bacteria will help us in the process of digestion. But, bacteria are not the only ones residing inside of us. Also part of the human microbiome are fungi which constitute a distinct category of organisms with features that demarcate them from bacteria, plants, and animals; the fungal species, specifically, form the mycobiome.

Gut Fungi At Work

Little is known as to the roles of fungi found in the gut. Their presence is, however, believed to be crucial for the good functioning of the human microbiome as whole. Regardless, they are normally present in our bodies, as have shown a number of studies, and just like disrupted bacterial populations might come with unpleasant effects, alterations in gut fungal species might also result in negative outcomes. The new study suggests that changes in gut fungi resulting from high-fat diets might be involved in the development of obesity. This highlights the need to delve deeper into the human microbiome, taking into consideration all of its inhabitants.

“We really need to be looking at all the microbes and how they are interacting with each other to get a full picture of what the microbiome structure and function is in a given individual,” says lead author Cheryl Gale, from the University of Minnesota.

Fungi Under The Spotlight

When it comes to obesity and the human microbiome, scientists have repeatedly mentioned the influence of gut bacteria while the contribution of fungi has remained mostly untouched. This is slowly changing, though. Gale points out that it has recently been found that fungi might be linked with gut inflammation, and his research provides an important contribution to shedding light on these organisms.

Changes in Gut Fungi & Metabolism

The findings demonstrate that high-fat diets, as opposed to standard diets, possibly lead to significant differences in both the bacterial and fungal abundances of mice. The fungal and bacterial microbiome structures are also subjected to modifications. Furthermore, predicted microbiome functional modules associated with metabolism were found in lower abundances in mice fed with high-fat diets.

Also, mice fed with normal diets showed correlations of coabundance between specific fungi and bacteria in mice, and this link decreased in mice which consumed high-fat diets.

“Not only are we affecting the community of fungi with dietary change, but we also see that relationships between fungi and bacteria are changing,” says Gale. “These kingdoms are not in isolation. If one changes, it is going to impact the community structure and maybe the functional structure of other kingdoms as well. I think that is where the microbiome field is moving.”

So, if changes in fungi populations and abundances are affecting metabolism, they might be responsible for conditions like obesity.

This paper shows that the fungal communities living in humans should be thoroughly analysed to establish the links between gut microbiome and metabolic health.

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