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When beneficial bacteria knock but no one is home

The community of beneficial bacteria that live in our intestines, known as the gut microbiome, are important for the development and function of the immune system. There has been growing evidence that certain probiotics–therapies that introduce beneficial bacteria into the gut–may help alleviate some of the symptoms of intestinal disorders such as Crohn’s disease. By studying the interplay between genetic risk factors for Crohn’s and the bacteria that populate the gut, researchers at Caltech have discovered a new potential cause for this disorder in some patients–information that may lead to advances in probiotic therapies and personalized medicine.

Bacteroides fragilis and Intestinal Epithelial Cells
Bacteroides fragilis and intestinal epithelial cells shown as an overview tomogram with the modeled bacterium indicated with a black box (left, fig. A). The model reveals secretion of outer membrane vesicles (right, fig. B), bacterial structures discovered to interact with the immune system via genetic pathways linked to Crohn’s disease. Green, outer membrane; light blue, inner membrane; pink, ribosomes; gold; outer membrane vesicles.
Credit: Mark Ladinsky/Greg Donaldson/Caltech