One of the pleasant side-effects of this whole fitness-as-a-lifestyle thing has come in a rather unexpected area, which is typically kept to oneself. So naturally I will talk about it today.
There is a relatively new assay (within the last five-years or so) in the sequencing world where researchers can profile the entire community of bacteria living on you, and inside of you. This is called your microbiome. Each individual has a pretty unique profile, and its even been shown to be plausible to uniquely identify a person by the bacteria they leave behind. Gross right?
A recent studied discussed on NPR's salt blog talked today about the unique microbiome of professional athletes. More specifically, what is different in their guts, as compared to other "Regular health people". Fascinatingly, there are detectable differences.
This area of research is especially of interest to my line of work, not to mention my rather weak GI tract that I firmly believe could be fixed with a nice dose of good bacteria. Focusing on work though, more and more projects are coming through the lab focused on profiling the microbiome differences between patient cohorts.
To accomplish this type of profiling, we look at a region of the genome called the 16s ribosomal RNA subunit. This is a region characterized by "hyper-variable" regions as well as "hyper-conserved". This means that by looking at the hyper-variable DNA, we can uniquely identify down to the species level which bacteria is present. The hyper-conserved locations let us target the 16s accurately and precisely.
Once we target these locations, and then isolate the variable DNA, we can then use computational approaches for determining where they originate, via sequence similarity searches. If we know BugA has a variable region that looks like: "ACGTACGTACGT" , then every time we see that exact sequence, we know BugA is present. Pretty easy! Eventually we fully profile, and break things down into nice graphics.
More and more, I believe we will eventually be able to profile disease states based on what is in your gut. It's a really cool area of research, and as the analysis and methods establish themselves, it'll be very interesting to see what we uncover. The study establishes that there is significant differences in what populates professional athletes bodies. Time to buy stock in whatever company sells those pills!
More seriously though, I've felt major differences in my own tummy-troubles once I'm on a serious consistent training schedule, especially when I am locked in with healthy eating. This finding doesn't surprise me at all.
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