From the farm to the gut: the surprising effects of fruits and veggies on the gut microbiota
Scientists discovered for the first time that over 2% of Humans' gut microbes originated from fruits and vegetables. These plant microbes persist for years, supplementing human genes by producing health-promoting compounds.
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New research 1 reveals that the age-old adage “an apple a day, keeps the doctor away” also applies to nourishing our microscopic inhabitants - the gut microbiome. Scientists discovered that plant- associated bacteria migrate to and persist within the human digestive tract. This study represents the first evidence for the transmission of plant microbes to the gut via consumption.
Plant microbes hitchhike to colonize gut microbiota
The scientists from The Institute of Environmental Biotechnology 2 in Austria performed a sophisticated computational genomic analysis, reconstructing 156 bacterial genomes from fruit and vegetable metagenomic datasets. These microbial DNA sequences served as a reference to detect fresh produce-derived bacteria within publicly available human stool metagenomes. The researchers also examined a longitudinal cohort tracking infant stool samples over three years to assess bacterial persistence.
Researchers were surprised to find common bacterial genera inhabiting both fresh produce and people's intestines. Core plant genera detected in subjects' guts included Enterobacterales, Burkholderiales and Lactobacillales.
Plants seed 2% of total gut bacteria
On average, nearly 2% of an individual's unique gut bacteria originated from fruits and vegetables. This proportion increased in younger kids and with greater vegetable intake.
Even if this proportion remains low compared to the total bacterial community, these plant-derived bacteria provide essential health components such as short-chain fatty acids, vitamin B12 and vitamin K. Their minority abundance belies a major functional role– supplementing human genes and metabolism.
2% of Humans' gut microbes are coming from fruits and vegetables we consume!
Finally, the study showed that eating over 10 different plants weekly, compared to less dietary diversity, was associated with heightened gut species richness. Regular vegetable consumption was also linked to a more heterogeneous bacterial community structure.
Soil seeding our microbiome future
As human activity shrinks natural ecosystems and depletes environmental bacteria, dwindling microbial input from fresh produce may have far-reaching public health consequences we have only begun to grasp.
This research spotlights produce's unsuspected significance as vital conduits seeding our gut ecosystem - and suggests plant and soil conservation may "sow" seeds for better global microbiome futures.
We can also argue that diminishing microbial input from intensively farmed, less microbiome-rich produce may have negative public health impacts. This spotlight on fruits and vegetables as vital but vulnerable conduits transmitting environmental bacteria to our guts carries urgent implications for agriculture, conservation, and medicine.