Duke UniversityIt seems that quickly evolving bacteria play a major role in enhancing digestive health. A recent research conducted by the Duke and North Carolina State University claimed to have discovered that quickly evolving bacteria may help improve digestive health. The research also revealed that, ‘experimental evolution,’ or evolution controlled in a laboratory setting, may probably be used to develop new strains of bacteria for use as probiotic substances. They are living organisms used for intestinal and digestive therapies.

The research was conducted on a colony of mice, which were raised in a large plastic bubble like an isolator. This isolator was completely sterile and did not contain a single bacterium. The authors then, advanced a single type of bacteria into the mouse colony and it mutated into different types. The outcome was that the new bacteria were much hardier in the inside of the mice than the original bacterium was.

“In some regards, this is one of the best demonstrations of evolution ever carried out in a laboratory. This is the first time the evolution of bacteria has been monitored for a period of years in an incredibly complex environment. This research also strengthens the idea that we could harness evolution in the laboratory to develop microbes for use in biotechnology and in medicine,” explained William Parker, PhD, assistant professor in the Duke Department of Surgery.

A structure known as a type 1 pilus was developed on the research bacteria. This structure enabled them, to stick to things. The research then aimed to determine, the effect of the molecule, when an interaction takes place, between the bacteria and mice. The authors were startled by the results, as the bacteria began to mutate and quickly lost the pilus structure that, had been engineered into them. It appeared that, it was rapidly evolving in a variety of organisms.

Parker remarked, “We did a variety of experiments to rule out contamination as the source of the diversity. It became clear that evolution was messing up our experiment. At that point, because the evolutionary process seemed to be driving the bacteria to live more effectively in the mouse gut, and because developing bacteria to live more effectively in the gut is one of our primary goals, we decided to let the process run and see where it would go.”

The research continued for three years, wherein, the bacterial population continued to remain diverse. They well adjusted to the environment in the digestive tracts of the mice. The bacteria seemed to be in a better condition, at the end of the research, than in the beginning. In fact, a three-fold increase was registered, in the density of the bacteria. Further experiments will be conducted, to learn the genetic changes that are probably held responsible for the adaptations.

The research is published in the Applied and Environmental Microbiology journal.