Precision Medicine and Microbiomics Are Related, New Research Finds Genetics Affects Bacteria in the Gut

New study shows that genes impact what types of bacteria are present in the intestines, creating new implications for neurological and emotional health

A new experiment has revealed that the type of bacteria someone has in their intestines may depend on their genes. This discovery indicates that precision medicine and microbiomics may be more closely related than previously thought. As our understanding of the role the microbiome plays in health grows, this new study may have far-reaching implications for the future of precision medicine.

The new finding came out of mouse model experiments conducted by the Collaborative Research Centre (CRC) 1182 “Origin and Function of Metaorganisms.” CRC 1182 describes itself as an “interdisciplinary network involving around 80 researchers that investigates the interactions of specific microbial communities with multicellular host organisms.”

The researchers used two distinct strains of mice that lived in the wild and evaluated how the genetic differences between these mice impacted their microbiome. The microbiome refers to the unique combination of different bacteria populations that live in the intestines.

Mapping Genes to Regions of the Intestines

Shauni Doms, PhD, and Leslie Turner, PhD,  genetic mapping study, bacteria in intestines, microbiomics
Shauni Doms, PhD (above, left), and Leslie Turner, PhD (right), recently reported findings of a genetic mapping study focusing on host genetics in shaping gut microbial traits and connecting to diseases. (Photos: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, University of Bath)

The team of scientists mapped genes in regions of the intestines where bacteria were more likely to attach. “Our genetic mapping revealed more than 400 gene regions associated with changes in abundance in about 120 different bacterial taxa within the microbiome,” said first author of study, Shauni Doms, PhD, in a Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology statement. “We were able to narrow down this large number to about 80 high-confidence candidate genes, many of which are known to be involved in recognition and communication with bacteria.”

The experiment showed that the particular population of bacteria in the intestines of individual mice was dependent on the genetics of each mouse. “Overall, our study is the first to establish a relationship between heritability and the degree of diversification of bacteria with their hosts during the speciation process,” explained Leslie Turner, PhD, one of the corresponding authors of this study.

This study has significant implications for precision medicine, which primarily relies on using genetic differences between individuals to personalize diagnostic interventions and treatments. The genetic component of precision medicine has generally been thought of as separate from microbiomics, which examines differences in bacteria present in the intestines to identify different causes of health problems.

The new finding shows that precision medicine and microbiomics are related in a way that was not previously understood. The fact that genetics can impact an individual’s microbiome will have far-reaching effects on the future of both fields.

Further Recognition of Relationship Between Microbiome and Health

Jane Foster, PhD, University of Texas, Southwestern
Jane Foster, PhD
(Photo: UT Southwestern Medical Center News)

These findings come at a time when the effects of the microbiome on health are becoming more and more appreciated. A recent perspective article published in Science by Jane Foster, PhD, professor of psychiatry at University of Texas (UT) Southwestern, highlights recent advances in applying microbiomics to improve neurological and emotional health.

Using microbiomics, clinicians and researchers can identify individuals who are at risk for mental illnesses and neurological disorders. “People who are at risk for depression or diagnosed with depression are heterogeneous,” Foster explained in a recent UT Southwestern news release. “So we want to use biology to understand the biomarkers that can help define the different clusters of people.”

The additional data that the microbiome provides may shed light on how to improve care. “Currently we have a host of treatment choices, yet decisions are predominantly based on behavior and self-report, and imaging and EEGs in some cases,” Foster said. “Antidepressants typically work for just around 40% of people. Other choices include cognitive behavioral therapy, deep brain stimulation, or even exercise and diet. By expanding on the individual patient’s profile, can we now improve the number of people that respond to a particular treatment?”

Using Genetic Testing to Detect Microbiomic Deficiencies

The finding that genetics plays a role in the makeup of the microbiome may allow researchers and clinicians new ways to test for potential microbiomic deficiencies using genetic testing. This breakthrough may also result in identifying new genetic targets that can be evaluated for treatment, improving the microbiome though gene-related therapies instead of solely focusing on the bacteria present in the gut.

Healthcare leaders will want to be aware of developments in microbiomics as knowledge and potential applications in this field continue to expand. Microbiomics and precision medicine will likely play an increasingly interactive role in the future of personalized medicine.

—Caleb Williams

Related Information:

Collaborative Research Centre (CRC) 1182

Key Features of the Genetic Architecture and Evolution of Host-Microbe Interactions Revealed by High-Resolution Genetic Mapping of the Mucosa-Associated Gut Microbiome in Hybrid Mice

Individual Genetics Helps Determine Composition of the Gut Microbiome

Modulating Brain Function With Microbiota

Gut Microbes May Lead to Therapies for Mental Illness, UTSW Researcher Reports

Shauni Doms, PhD

Leslie Turner, PhD

Jane Foster, PhD

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