Article image

Language of the gut: The unknown potential bile acids

In a new study by the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at UC San Diego, researchers have unveiled a vast number of previously unknown bile acids.

These discoveries shed light on the intricate communication between our gut microbiome and the rest of our body, offering unprecedented insights into human health and disease management.

Expanding our biochemical vocabulary

Senior author Pieter Dorrestein, Ph.D., compared the findings to going from basic language understanding to the complexity of Shakespeare’s works. The analogy highlights a significant leap in decoding biochemical signals from our gut microbiome across our bodies.

Lee Hagey, Ph.D., a co-author and bile acids expert, described the research as a “molecular Rosetta stone.” It reveals how microbes’ biochemical language affects distant organs, showing their significant impact on our overall health.

The multifaceted role of bile acids

Bile acids, produced in the liver and stored in the gallbladder, are crucial for digestion. They undergo transformation by gut microbes into secondary bile acids, which are more easily absorbed by the body.

The study reveals bile acids’ numerous roles beyond digestion, suggesting their use in treating various diseases. They regulate the immune system and are pivotal in metabolic processes like lipid and glucose management.

Ipsita Mohanty, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher and co-author, expressed her amazement at the rapid increase in bile acids identified, from merely a few hundred to several thousand. This significant growth in our understanding suggests that bile acids have numerous functions beyond aiding digestion.

Consequently, these insights open up possibilities for using bile acids in treating a diverse spectrum of illnesses, demonstrating their extensive potential in medical science.

Bile acids and disease treatment

Helena Mannochio-Russo, Ph.D., also a postdoctoral researcher in the Dorrestein lab, highlighted the wide-ranging impact of bile acids, enhanced through their symbiotic relationship with the microbiome. This effect spans well beyond mere digestion, indicating that bile acids may contribute significantly to therapies for various diseases.

Indeed, many of these potential treatments are now being investigated using bile acid-based therapies that have received FDA approval, showcasing their versatile applications in medicine.

The discovery leveraged unique resources at UC San Diego, notably the Collaborative Microbial Metabolite Center (CMMC). Under Dorrestein’s leadership, the CMMC stands as a trailblazing initiative aimed at centralizing data on microbial metabolites.

This effort has been instrumental in advancing our knowledge of their effects on human health and the environment. It highlights the critical roles that collaboration and computing power play in driving forward the frontiers of modern scientific research.

Rewriting the textbook on human metabolism

With the development of a novel tool that pairs microbes with their metabolites, the research team has innovatively prepared the groundwork for further investigations. Specifically, they aim to delve into the roles of newly identified bile acids and various other critical biomolecules.

This initiative has sparked considerable excitement within the scientific community. Professor Dorrestein, a leading figure in the project, expressed his optimism regarding the upcoming phases. He emphasized the potential this tool holds for propelling rapid progress in comprehending human metabolism.

Additionally, Professor Dorrestein pointed out the significant implications for improving the treatment of various diseases. Through this breakthrough, the team anticipates a transformative impact on medical science, paving the way for groundbreaking discoveries.

The research not only marks a significant leap in our understanding of the gut microbiome’s language but also opens new avenues for therapeutic interventions. It signifies a shift in the paradigm of disease treatment, moving us closer to a future where the mysteries of human metabolism are fully unveiled.

The full study was published in the journal Cell Reports.


Like what you read? Subscribe to our newsletter for engaging articles, exclusive content, and the latest updates. 

Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and


News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day