Have you heard the buzzword microbiome? the scientific name given to the community of bacteria that live in our gut along with other micro-organisms? There are good reasons why gut bacteria, making up more than 60% of our poop’s dry weight, are getting so much attention. In fact, the science shows that the billions of bacteria in each of our guts serve us with roles in essential processes such synthesizing vitamins and important nutrients as well as regulating the immune system.
Although it is becoming increasingly clear that the microbiome is integral for health, there are still a lot of unknowns, including a definition of what is considered “normal”. Partially, the definition of normal is complicated by the dynamic nature of the gut bacterial population, which quickly changes in response to diet, exposure to parasites, sleep, exercise, etc. However, recent research on the gut bacteria of thousands of people around the globe have shown that the bacteria in your gut may reveal your true age!
As recently published in the prestigious Science journal, the microbiome can serve as a surprisingly accurate biological clock, able to predict the age of most people within years. This incredible conclusion came from results obtained by longevity researcher Alex Zhavoronkov and colleagues at InSilico Medicine, a Rockville, Maryland–based artificial intelligence startup.
In their work, gut bacteria samples (read poop) were analyzed from over one thousand healthy individuals across the globe, of which about a third were 20 – 39 years old, another third were aged 40 to 59, and the final third from 60 to 90 years old. Using 95 different species of bacteria from 90% of the samples along with the ages of the people they had come from, the scientists developed an algorithm based on the age and bacteria data of each sample. Then, using machine learning, they asked for a prediction of the ages of the people who provided the remaining 10% of the samples. Incredibly, their deep-learning algorithm was able to predict the age of the people from which the poop samples came from within 4 years!
Some interesting aspects of their results include the fact that 39 of the 95 species of bacteria analyzed were most important predicting age, with some microbes increasing and others decreasing with age. Due to the nature of the microbiome, there could be several reasons for these alterations, including changes in diet, sleeping habits, and physical activity. Future work will shed light on the potential of this “microbiome aging clock” to test how fast or slow a person’s gut is aging as well as to test the effects of lifestyle aspects such as alcohol, drugs, and diet affect the microbiome age as well as longevity.
These results may also be relevant to study the association between certain age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer, and the microbiome. As Zhavoronkov says, it’s still not known whether changes in the microbiome cause people to age more rapidly, or whether the changes are simply a side effect of aging. InSilico Medicine is building several aging clocks based on machine learning that could be combined with the microbiome one. “Age is such an important parameter in all kinds of diseases,” Zhavoronkov says. “Every second we change.”
In conclusion, there is still a lot to learn about our symbiotic bacterial friends. Just to turn things upside down, I will leave you with the thought that it may be that they can tell us more about ourselves than we can about them. Next week, I will share some more poopy news with you!
Note: This post was originally published on Sofia’s blog at www.besthealth.life