A team of US researchers have found a molecule that helps synchronize the absorption of nutrients in the gut with the rhythms of the Earth's day-night light cycle -- a discovery that has far-ranging implications for obesity in affluent countries and malnutrition in impoverished countries.
Dr Lora Hooper and her research team at UT Southwestern found that the good bacteria that live in the guts of mammals programme the metabolic rhythms that govern the body's absorption of dietary fat.
The team also found that microbes programme these so-called circadian rhythms by activating a protein named "histone deacetylase 3" (HDAC3), which is made by cells that line the gut.
Those cells act as intermediaries between bacteria that aid in digestion of food and proteins that enable absorption of nutrients. The microbiome actually communicates with our metabolic machinery to make fat absorption more efficient.
"But when fat is overabundant, this communication can result in obesity. Whether the same thing is going on in other mammals, including humans, is the subject of future studies," said lead author Dr Zheng Kuang, a postdoctoral fellow in the Hooper's laboratory in the study published in the journal Science.
The study, done in mice, revealed that HDAC3 turns on genes involved in the absorption of fat.
They found that HDAC3 interacts with the biological clock machinery within the gut to refine the rhythmic ebb and flow of proteins that enhance absorption of fat.
This regulation occurs in the daytime in humans, who eat during the day, and at night in mice, which eat at night.
"Our results suggest that the microbiome and the circadian clock have evolved to work together to regulate metabolism," said Hooper.
Disrupting the interactions between the microbiota and the body's clock could make us more likely to become obese.
"These disruptions happen frequently in modern life when we take antibiotics, work overnight shifts, or travel internationally. But we think that our findings might eventually lead to new treatments for obesity - and possibly malnutrition - by altering the bacteria in our guts," the researchers mentioned.
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