In a paper published yesterday in Nature, researchers showed that changes in the gut microbiome of Drosophila Melanogaster flies directly affected the flies’ behavior. They report that flies without microbes in their gut showed hyperactive locomotor behavior in the form of increased walking speed and daily activity in comparison to normal flies. Once the flies’ guts were colonized with the bacteria lactobacillus brevis, their behavior returned to normal. The paper adds to a growing body of research linking the gut microbiome to the host’s behavior and contributes to the theory that changing the composition of gut bacteria could have physical and mental health applications, although more research is still necessary.
The role of the gut microbiome in human health and behavior has been a matter of extensive study over the past few years. Gut microbiome refers to microbes located in the digestive tract, which may contain up to 1,000 different microbial species. Microbes colonize a baby’s digestive tract at birth and from that point on they play an essential role in a person throughout their lives. Gut microbiota is essential for the metabolism of large carbohydrates, which are a rich source of energy that would otherwise be lost. They also protect the host against infection from foreign pathogens. In fact, an alteration of the gut microbiome, called dysbiosis, has been associated with opportunistic infections, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity and diabetes type 2, among many other diseases.
The microbiome also has an effect on the central nervous system and plays a role in brain development and behavior. While more evidence is necessary, some researchers have linked gut microbiome to social behavior and mating preferences in animals, with some linking a dysbiotic gut to anxiety, depression and even neurodegeneration.
Successfully altering the host’s behavior through the introduction of a single micro-organism into their gut brings the scientific community closer to understanding the complex role between gut microbes and human behavior. Moreover, it brings the alteration of gut microbes to treat specific diseases closer to reality.