metabolism in other ways as well. For example, he described work done in collaboration with Lee Kaplan’s group at Massachusetts General Hospital utilizing a mouse model for gastric bypass surgery. These results highlight dramatic changes in the gut microbiota immediately following surgery. Researchers are now investigating which metabolic outcomes of surgery may be influenced by the gut microbiota.
Indeed, a growing body of evidence suggests that the microbiome impacts a wide range of host metabolic pathways. Using degradation of plant chemicals as an example, Johanna Lampe, associate division director in the Public Health Sciences Division at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, explored the many roles that microbes play in host metabolism and how those microbial contributions influence disease prevention and disease risk (Qin et al., 2010; Scalbert et al., 2011). She highlighted the glucosinolates (the chemical precursors to a compound in cruciferous vegetables that protects against cancer) (Li et al., 2011; Shapiro et al., 2001), soy isoflavones (which have been associated with a variety of health outcomes in perimenopausal women) (Akaza et al., 2002; Atkinson et al., 2003; Frankenfeld et al., 2004; Fuhrman et al., 2008), and plant lignins (Kuijsten et al., 2005).
As the workshop progressed, speakers explored in greater depth the impact of diet on the microbiome; how dietary influences on the microbiome contribute to human health and disease; and ways to modulate the microbiome to build and maintain health through the use of prebiotics and probiotics in food products.
Diet-related diseases have become more prominent in today’s society. For Bruce German, professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of California, Davis, that raises the question: Is it possible to prevent disease through diet? German’s quest to understand the preventive potential of diet led him to “the one thing” that evolved to promote a reduction in risk: human breast milk. He described work by Carlito Lebrilla, David Mills, and others on the association between human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) and Bifidobacterium infantis, a dominant member of the breast-fed-infant microbiome. HMOs are the third most predominant component of human breast milk (Wu et al., 2010, 2011b). Yet, they are undigestible by the infant. As it turns out, their role is to serve as a food source not for the infant, but rather for B. infantis (LoCascio et al., 2007; Marcobal et al., 2010; Sela et al., 2011; Ward et al., 2006, 2007). “The mother’s milk is providing a growth medium for the bacteria,” German said. Knowledge of the HMO-B. infantis association is also being used to explore new ways to improve the health of premature infants.