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Smartphone experiment tracks whether our life story is written in our gut bacteria

Life events such as visiting another country or contracting a disease cause a significant shift in the make-up of the gut microbiota - the community of bacteria living in the digestive system, according to research published in the open access journal Genome Biology.

Two participants used smartphone apps to collect information every day for a year in the study by scientists from MIT and Harvard. The authors think the method could be rolled out to studies of human-bacteria relationships with many more participants.

Our microbiota is the community of bacteria that share space with our bodies, and is individual to each person. The bacteria live in harmony with us, but it is thought that the composition of our microbiota has a close relationship to our health.

The scientists asked two volunteers to use a smartphone app to log their daily activity, including their diet, exercise, bowel movements and mood and submit regular stool and saliva samples. The participants were screened before the experiment for their willingness to track such a broad range of daily actions. The two participants then logged their activity for a year, and the data from the diaries and genetics of the bacteria in the samples were analysed in detail, to see what had the greatest effect on the composition of the microbiota.

The results showed that the participants had a 'default' microbiota, which were unaffected by sleep levels, exercise and mood. What did have a significant effect on the microbiota were two life events - one subject moved abroad, while the other had a significant bout of food poisoning which caused most pre-existing gut bacterial species to decline. The effects of relationships between diet and specific groups of bacteria manifested in a single day.

Professor Lawrence David from Duke University said: "I was surprised by our results in several ways. First, I wasn't sure we would find correlations between fiber intake and gut bacterial dynamics on such short time scales. And I was amazed to see how profoundly a single food poisoning event impacted the gut bacteria. This has given us a lot of new ideas for follow up studies and analyses of gut microbial ecology, as well as enteric infectious diseases in humans."

-ENDS-

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Notes to Editor

1. Research
Host lifestyle affects human microbiota on daily timescales
Lawrence A David, Arne C Materna, Jonathan Friedman, Maria IC Baptista, Matthew C Blackburn, Allison Perrotta, Susan E Erdman and Eric J Alm
Genome Biology 2014 15:R89
doi: 10.1186/gb-2014-15-7-r89

After embargo, article available at journal website

Please name the journal in any story you write. If you are writing for the web, please link to the article. All articles are available free of charge, according to BioMed Central's open access policy.

2. Genome Biology serves the biological research community as an international forum for the dissemination, discussion and critical review of information about all areas of biology informed by genomic research. Key objectives are to provide a guide to the rapidly developing resources and technology in genomics and its impact on biological research, to publish large datasets and extensive results that are not readily accommodated in traditional journals, and to help establish new standards and nomenclature for post-genomic biology.

3. BioMed Central (http://www.biomedcentral.com/) is an STM (Science, Technology and Medicine) publisher which has pioneered the open access publishing model. All peer-reviewed research articles published by BioMed Central are made immediately and freely accessible online, and are licensed to allow redistribution and reuse. BioMed Central is part of Springer Science+Business Media, a leading global publisher in the STM sector. 

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