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Intestinal bacteria could help you live a very long life

Scientists have long wondered why some people succeed in living very long lives without requiring extensive medical treatments. Now, by studying 176 healthy Japanese centenarians, a team of researchers led by the University of Copenhagen has found that the combination of intestinal bacteria and bacterial viruses of these individuals is quite unique and significantly contributes to their longevity.

“We are always eager to find out why some people live extremely long lives. Previous research has shown that the intestinal bacteria of old Japanese citizens produce brand new molecules that make them resistant to pathogenic – that is, disease-promoting – microorganisms. And if their intestines are better protected against infection, well, then that is probably one of the things that cause them to live longer than others,” said lead author Joachim Johansen, a postdoctoral fellow in Disease Systems Biology at Copenhagen.

While the beneficial role of the vast community of bacteria constituting our gut microbiome has already been extensively studied, less attention has been given to the billion of viruses in our intestines that infect bacterial cells. 

Optimizing the gut microbiome 

In the new study, published in the journal Nature Microbiology, researchers used an algorithm to map the composition of the participants’ microbiomes. The experts found great biological diversity in both bacteria and bacterial viruses, a feature which they believe to be associated with a healthy gut microbiome that provides efficient protection against aging related diseases.

“We want to understand the dynamics of the intestinal flora. How do the different kinds of bacteria and viruses interact? How can we engineer a microbiome that can help us live healthy, long lives? Are some bacteria better than others? Using the algorithm, we are able to describe the balance between viruses and bacteria,” said senior author Simon Rasmussen, an associate professor of Bioinformatics at Copenhagen.

According to Rasmussen, better understanding this balance could help scientists optimize the gut microbiome in order to increase the organism’s resilience against disease. 

What the researchers learned 

“We have learned that if a virus pays a bacterium a visit, it may actually strengthen the bacterium. The viruses we found in the healthy Japanese centenarians contained extra genes that could boost the bacteria. We learned that they were able to boost the transformation of specific molecules in the intestines, which might serve to stabilize the intestinal flora and counteract inflammation,” Johansen explained.

“If you discover bacteria and viruses that have a positive effect on the human intestinal flora, the obvious next step is to find out whether only some or all of us have them. If we are able to get these bacteria and their viruses to move in with the people who do not have them, more people could benefit from them. If we know why viruses and intestinal bacteria are a good match, it will be a lot easier for us to change something that actually affects our health,” Rasmussen concluded.

More about intestinal bacteria 

Intestinal bacteria, also referred to as gut microbiota, are a complex community of microorganisms that reside in your digestive tract, specifically in the large intestine. These microbes include not only bacteria, but also viruses, fungi, and other types of microbes. They play a vital role in health and disease.


There are estimated to be over 1,000 species of bacteria in the human gut, each with a wide range of functions. These bacteria can be beneficial, neutral, or harmful. The balance and diversity of these bacteria can greatly affect our health.


These microbes help break down food and absorb nutrients, including the digestion of complex carbohydrates, producing short-chain fatty acids and vitamins like K and B, which the body cannot make on its own.

Immune System

The gut microbiota plays a critical role in the development and function of the immune system. They help regulate immune responses, protecting against pathogens and maintaining tolerance to harmless microbes and food antigens.

Brain-Gut Axis

Recent research has found that the gut microbiota can also influence the brain and behavior, in what is often referred to as the “gut-brain axis.” This communication happens through multiple pathways that include the immune system, tryptophan metabolism, and the production of short-chain fatty acids and other metabolites.

Dysbiosis and Health Conditions

Dysbiosis refers to an imbalance or disruption in the gut microbiota. This has been linked to several health conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Probiotics and Prebiotics

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your health, especially your digestive system. We usually think of bacteria as something harmful, but your body is full of bacteria, both good and bad. Probiotics are often called “good” or “friendly” bacteria because they help keep your gut healthy. Prebiotics, on the other hand, are types of dietary fiber that feed the friendly bacteria in your gut. This can help the gut bacteria produce nutrients for your gut cells, lead to better digestive health, and enhance the immune system.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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