In a study at the University of Chicago, researchers have shone a light on a hidden influence in our diets that could be affecting our gut health – lantibiotics like nisin, common in the food industry as preservatives.
Lantibiotics have been keeping our food safe from harmful pathogens for years, but what about their impact on the human gut microbiome? The University of Chicago’s recent study has revealed that these potent antimicrobials might be double-edged swords, capable of disturbing the critical balance of our gut bacteria. This balance is essential for digestion, immune function, and overall health, and disrupting it could have unforeseen consequences.
The researchers delved into the human gut bacteria genome database and identified genes for six gut-derived lantibiotics – including four previously undiscovered. They also synthesized these lantibiotics and put them to the test against various gut bacteria.
Their findings? It’s a complex battlefield in our bellies. While lantibiotics are indeed warriors against pathogens, they can also harm the beneficial commensal bacteria that call our gut home. Surprisingly, some of these friendly microbes are even more vulnerable to lantibiotics than the harmful ones.
But it’s not all dire news. The team’s research into the structure of peptides within lantibiotics opens the door to understanding their antimicrobial activity better. This knowledge could lead to new ways to harness the benefits of lantibiotics while minimizing their risk to our gut flora.
In an intriguing twist, a related study suggests that lantibiotics could protect against antibiotic-resistant infections, highlighting their potential as allies in our health – if their detrimental effects can be curbed.
This important research, published in ACS Chemical Biology on January 31st, 2024, and funded by institutions including the GI Research Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.