Researchers have long assumed that a particular stage in a person’s biological development is entirely determined by genes, yet a new study suggests that stages may also be influenced by conditions inside the digestive system, such as diabetes and obesity.
Most scientists accept that genes determine whether a person’s body will develop normally, but what happens when the gut becomes dysfunctional? This is the question that is Evan Armstrong’s major focus.
First author Tian-Jie Dong at Binghamton Center for Heart Study, State University of New York, and colleagues investigated the surprise finding that the stomach’s second unit, the small intestine, cells divide and are happy to decide to divide again.
A second surprise came when they examined the digestive system. The gastrointestinal tract, which processes complex foods, contains one of the largest populations of bacteria of any organ in the body. However, there was no difference in the number of bacteria between people with and without diabetes and obesity—and even better, there was no change in the gut bacterial diversity between the two groups.
The study, published in the Journal of Lipid Research, suggests that the second-unit elevations may not translate completely to the stomach, but merely represent an occasional and transient phenomenon. There may, however, be other genetic factors playing on this answer, said Dong, associate professor of bioengineering in the School of Engineering in the Binghamton University’s Mead Family Research Campus.
“What we saw was that when we treated mice with diabetes, they would start to have intestinal calcium problems, and that being obese made the intestinal cells colonize batabatic bacteria faster, causing rapid intestinal movement,” said Dong in a scenario describing the study.