1 in 4 has alarmingly few intestinal bacteria

Contact: Oluf Pedersen oluf@sund.ku.dk 45-52-39-56-50 University of Copenhagen

All people have trillions of bacteria living in their intestines. If you place them on a scale, they weigh around 1.5 kg. Previously, a major part of these ‘blind passengers’ were unknown, as they are difficult or impossible to grow in laboratories. But over the past five years, an EU-funded research team, MetaHIT, coordinated by Professor S. Dusko Ehrlich at the INRA Research Centre of Jouy-en-Josas, France and with experts from Europe and China have used advanced DNA analysis and bioinformatics methods to map human intestinal bacteria.

-The genetic analysis of intestinal bacteria from 292 Danes shows that about a quarter of us have up to 40% less gut bacteria genes and correspondingly fewer bacteria than average. Not only has this quarter fewer intestinal bacteria, but they also have reduced bacterial diversity and they harbour more bacteria causing a low-grade inflammation of the body. This is a representative study sample, and the study results can therefore be generalised to people in the Western world, says Oluf Pedersen, Professor and Scientific Director at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen.

Oluf Pedersen and Professor Torben Hansen have headed the Danish part of the MetaHIT project, and the findings are reported in the highly recognised scientific journal Nature.

The gut is like a rainforest

Oluf Pedersen compares the human gut and its bacteria with a tropical rainforest. He explains that we need as much diversity as possible, and – as is the case with the natural tropical rainforests – decreasing diversity is a cause for concern. It appears that the richer and more diverse the composition of our intestinal bacteria, the stronger our health. The bacteria produce vital vitamins, mature and strengthen our immune system and communicate with the many nerve cells and hormone-producing cells in the intestinal system. And, not least, the bacteria produce a wealth of bioactive substances which penetrate into the bloodstream and affect our biology in countless ways.

-Our study shows that people having few and less diverse intestinal bacteria are more obese than the rest. They have a preponderance of bacteria which exhibit the potential to cause mild inflammation in the digestive tract and in the entire body, which is reflected in blood samples that reveal a state of chronic inflammation, which we know from other studies to affect metabolism and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, says Oluf Pedersen.

-And we also see that if you belong to the group with less intestinal bacteria and have already developed obesity, you will also gain more weight over a number of years. We don’t know what came first, the chicken or the egg, but one thing is certain: it is a vicious circle that poses a health threat, says the researcher.

Take care of your intestinal bacteria

The researchers thus still cannot explain why some people have fewer intestinal bacteria, but the researchers are focusing their attention at dietary components, genetic variation in the human host, exposure to antimicrobial agents during early childhood and the chemistry we encounter daily in the form of preservatives and disinfectants.

A French research team reports a study in the same issue of Nature showing that by maintaining a low-fat diet for just six weeks, a group of overweight individuals with fewer and less diverse intestinal bacteria may, to some extent, increase the growth of intestinal bacteria, both in terms of actual numbers and diversity.

-This indicates that you can repair some of the damage to your gut bacteria simply by changing your dietary habits. Our intestinal bacteria are actually to be considered an organ just like our heart and brain, and the presence of health-promoting bacteria must therefore be cared for in the best way possible. Over the next years, we will be gathering more knowledge of how best to do this,” says Oluf Pedersen, whose research team is studying, among other things, the impact of dietary gluten on gut bacteria composition and gut function.

Towards innovative early diagnostics and treatment options

Obesity and type 2 diabetes are not just a result of unfortunate combinations of intestinal bacteria or lack of health-promoting intestinal bacteria, Oluf Pedersen emphasises. There are likely many causal factors at play. But the MetaHit researchers’ contribution opens a new universe in which we begin to understand how gut bacteria in direct contact with the surrounding environment have a decisive impact on our health and risk of disease.

-At present we cannot do anything about our own DNA, individual variation in which also plays a crucial role in susceptibility for lifestyle diseases. But thanks to the new gut microbiota research, we now can start exploring interactions between host genetics and the gut bacteria- related environment which we may be able to change. That is why it is so exciting for us scientist within this research field– the possibilities are huge, says Oluf Pedersen.

-The long-term dream is to map and characterize any naturally occurring gut bacteria that produce appetite-inhibiting bioactive substances and in this way learn to exploit the body’s own medicine to prevent the obesity epidemic and type 2 diabetes, says Oluf Pedersen.

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Factbox 1: Danish researchers involved

Scientists from a number of Danish research institutions and hospitals have participated in the study: Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research, University of Copenhagen;  Lundbeck Foundation Center for Applied Medical Genomics in Personalised Disease Prediction, Prevention and Care (LuCamp); Center for Biological Sequence Analysis, Technical University of Denmark; Hagedorn Research Institute, Gentofte; Department of Systems Biology, Technical University of Denmark; Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, University of Copenhagen; University of Aarhus; University of Aalborg; University of Southern Denmark; Research Centre for Prevention and Health, Glostrup; Hospital of Vejle.

Factbox 2: The scientific article

In the article in Nature, the MetaHit scientists demonstrate that they by testing for just a few different bacteria species – with 98 % accuracy can distinguish between people with healthy intestinal bacteria and those who lack and have unhealthy bacteria. This provides promising opportunities for predicting diseases associated with an unhealthy bacterial composition in the intestines, for example type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

Should we decide which breed of humans to create?

  • by: JULIAN SAVULESCU
  • From:         News  Limited Network
  • October 09,  201212:58PM

Foetus

Does chance need a helping hand  when it comes to our children?  Source: Supplied

Today it is possible to create designer babies – either by testing embryos,  using pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, or fetuses, using prenatal testing.

Legislation and National Health and  Medical Research guidelines  restrict the use of these techniques to testing for  the presence of  diseases.

Sex selection and testing for non-disease characteristics, like   intelligence, empathy, altruism, etc. are not allowed. That is, testing  for  diseases and disorders is ok; creating designer babies is not.

The targets of the Nazi and  other eugenic programs, widely employed at the  time in the United States  and Europe, were people with intellectual disability,  the poor and  criminals.

The Nazis would have fully approved of the current system of  eugenics, which  focuses on diseases, including genetic disorders which  cause intellectual  disability like Down Syndrome and Fragile X syndrome.

One disability activist once said to me, “When you say it is ok to  abort a  baby or an embryo with a disability, but not ok to abort a  ‘normal baby’, you  are saying that lives with disability are less  deserving of respect, or have  lower moral status. When you allow  abortion for disability, but not for sex  selection, you are saying that  people with disability have less of a right to  life.”

There is some truth to this. If either the embryo or the fetus has a  moral  status – then it would be wrong to kill either, whether or not a  disability is  present. If the embryo or fetus does not have a moral  status, it should be  permissible to destroy an embryo or abort a fetus  for any reason.

In this way, paradoxically, allowing testing for diseases, but not for other  genes, is eugenic in objectionable ways.

Testing for some characteristic, like intelligence or sex, is  sometimes said  to send a message that people who lack that  characteristic have lives which are  less valuable, of lower status, or  less deserving of respect. Selecting for a  male sends the message that  females are less valuable.

But we should treat all people equally, regardless of race, sex or   disability. So genetic testing is seen to send the wrong message about  the  equality of people.

However, the same is sometimes said about testing for disease.  Testing for  cystic fibrosis or Down syndrome is said to send the message  that such lives  are less valuable, that those people are of lower  status.

This is deeply mistaken. To say that a disease is bad is not to say  that a  person with that disease is less equal or bad in some way. The  problem is some  people identify with their disease, disorder or some  other characteristic about  themselves, like sex.

But we are all individual people, deserving of equal respect,  regardless of  features about ourselves. To say that X is bad, or not  desired by me, is not  say that John or Julie with X has few rights.  Selecting embryos for certain  characteristics or treating diseases are  both entirely independent of the  equality of persons.

The last common objection to creating designer babies is that it will  have  bad social effects. This is easiest to see in the case of sex  selection, where  sex selection has seriously disturbed the sex ratio in  parts of India and  China.

I personally think that social reasons can provide a justification  for  interfering in liberty of reproduction. Massive overpopulation would  be a  reason to restrict fertility. People should not be having ten  children today,  as they did in the past.

But it is important to recognize that this is one of the objections  that  were laid at the door of the Nazi eugenics program: that it tried  to use  restrictions on reproduction (and killing) to bring about a  certain race (the  Aryan race).

To place restrictions on the freedom of reproduction for social  purposes  requires that we really be aiming at some uncontroversially  good social purpose  (not the Aryan race), that the restriction is  necessary to achieve that  purpose, and that there is no less  liberty-restricting policy that could  achieve that purpose.

Bans on the use of genetic testing for non-disease states fail this  test.  Consider two examples. There is no reason that a total ban on sex  selection is  necessary in Australia to maintain a roughly even sex  ratio. The sex ratio  could be monitored, sex selection could be allowed  only for females or only for  family balancing (having a child of the  opposite sex to existing children). All  three of these policies would  preserve the sex ratio, while allowing sex  selection.

Or consider more controversially, future tests for intelligence,  empathy,  etc. One of the major objections to this is that diversity is  necessary for  social functioning. We need a spread of intelligence, the  argument goes, to  fill all jobs. Or we need a certain number of  psychopaths in the population  (though I never really understood for what  – ruining companies?)

These are incredibly controversial claims and a poor basis for restricting  the liberty of people to access genetic tests.

Regulation of genetic testing to bring about social goals is  controversial  and can, in a limited number of circumstances, be  justified. But it should only  rarely constrain the liberty of couples to  access the widest range of tests and  knowledge in making decisions  about reproduction.

The current restrictions on genetic testing, allowing embryos to be  tested  only for the purpose of detecting diseases, are  liberty-restricting,  objectionably eugenic and immoral.

Paradoxically, Australia is much closer to Nazi eugenics by only  allowing  testing of embryos for diseases than it would be if it lifted  the ban on tests  for non-disease characteristics, like sex,  intelligence, empathy, altruism and  so on.

Should we decide what breed of humans to create? Some people believe  that  children are a gift, of God or Nature, and that we should not  interfere in  human nature.

Most people implicitly reject this view – we already routinely screen   embryos and fetuses for diseases. In the case of genetic selection, the   children who come to exist as a result of selection could have been  chosen by  chance.

And they have a reason to be grateful insofar as their lives are  good. We  should use the emerging knowledge from genetics to have not  just healthier  children, but children with better genes. We should give  chance a helping  hand.

Julian Savulescu is Sir Louis Matheson Distinguished Visiting  Professor  at Monash University and Chair in Practical Ethics at  University of Oxford. He will appear on SBS’s Insight program tonight, 8.30pm on  SBS ONE.

Read more: http://www.news.com.au/news/should-we-decide-which-breed-of-humans-to-create/story-fnepjsb4-1226492003389#ixzz28wE3l8IU

Criminals to be caught by their tattoos: Recognition software will scan Facebook for incriminating markings

By Daily Mail Reporter

PUBLISHED:13:30 EST, 9  September 2012| UPDATED:14:25 EST, 9 September 2012

Police may soon be able to catch criminals by  the ink they are sporting.

Computer scientists are developing a new  program that will be able to identify suspects by their tattoos and match them  to photos in police databases or on social media.

Automatic identification through recognition  of body art could provide a much needed breakthrough in detective work, often  thwarted by grainy footage from surveillance videos that make it difficult to  see a criminal’s face to use facial recognition.

Tattoo artist at workTattoo recognition: Computer scientists are developing a  computer program that will be able to identify suspects by their tattoos and  match them to photos in police databases (file photo)

‘Those photos are often so bad that face  recognition wouldn’t come even close’ to finding a match in a database, Terrance  Boult, a computer science professor at the University of Colorado, explained  to Live  Science.

To rectify this problem, Boult worked with a  team of researchers to develop a computer program that reviews body ink, scars,  moles and visible skin markings in photos.

The program scans images for these  identifiable skin symbols and then looks for people bearing the same markings in  a photo database.

The program is designed to pick up patterns  in tattoos and could even link together members of gangs, who often share body  tags.

Though this isn’t the first program to  examine body markings for identification, the computer program was designed to  better handle low quality photos, like those taken from a smart phone.

Michelle 'Bombshell' McGee

Body art: Police could use technology to find criminals  by their body art. A man (left) shows off his ink, as does Michelle ‘Bombshell’  McGee (right), the tattooed model who had an affair with Jesse James

The pictures, captured ‘in the wild,’  according to Notre Dame computer scientist Kevin Bowyer, could greatly enhance  police ability to solve crimes.

It will also allow police to search by eye  witness account, just based off a description from a bystander.

‘The idea of detecting markings on the skin  and using them as a way to recognize people has emerged as an interesting new  research topic in recent years,’ Kevin Bowyer, a Notre Dame computer scientist,  told Live Science.

The new program designed by Boult and his  team, ‘introduces improvements that are meant to move past proof-of-concept  toward more practical tools,’ Bowyer added.

Boult and his team will introduce their  computer system on September 25 at a conference in Washington, D.C., organized  by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

The new developments in body art recognition  comes in the wake of news that the FBI plans to upgrade its database of  criminals’ faces.

The $1 billion scheme will help officials fight crime by matching surveillance photographs with images of known offenders and will use several hi-tech identification measures such as DNA analysis, voice recognition and iris scans to help fight crimes.

But some fear the new ‘national photographic  database’ will encroach on the privacy of the innocent.

(file photo)Photo database: The FBI plans to build a $1 billion  database of Americans’ photographs for a new facial recognition software (file  photo

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2200691/Criminals-caught-tattoo-recognition.html#ixzz260VFw300