New research has revealed a strong correlation between the composition of a person’s gut microbiota and type 2 diabetes. Meta-genomic data from a study carried out by European and Chinese scientists has revealed that people with type 2 diabetes have higher levels of certain pathogenic bacteria, suggesting that the gut microbiota may have a large impact on the development of the condition.

Senior researcher, Professor Oluf Borbye Pedersen of the University of Copenhagen commented, “We have identified that patients with type 2 diabetes in fact have an imbalance in their gut bacteria. In other words they appear to have an excess of harmful or bad bacterial types and on the other hand they suffer from a lack of health promoting good bacterial types.”

Research was conducted in a joint effort between the University of Copenhagen and the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) and was led by Professor Karsten Kristiansen and Professor Jun Wang, respectively. The study was funded by the same EU MetaHIT project that discovered the human microbiome could be categorised into three distinct types.

This new study could lay an important foundation in understanding the relationship and genetic characteristics of gut bacteria and type 2 diabetes. However, Professor Kristiansen was keen to point out that this current research only points to a correlation and is not a concrete cause of the condition: “The big question now is whether the changes in gut bacteria can affect the development of type 2 diabetes or whether the changes simply reflect that the person is suffering from type 2 diabetes.”

Study details

In the study itself, scientists examined the intestinal microbiota of 345 people from China, of which 171 had type 2 diabetes. From the results, the researchers were able to identify key biological indicators that may be utilised in the future for earlier and more effective methods of diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.

Future studies are now in the pipeline to ascertain whether intestinal microbiota is already abnormal in people that are deemed to be at risk of diabetes. This will be in addition to animal studies which aim to examine if microbial changes in the gut are the root cause of diabetes.

Reference: Qin, J. et al (2012) A metagenome-wide association study of gut microbiota in type 2 diabetes. Nature, publish online ahead of print.


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