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Genetic factors of gut bacteria and bloating

Posted 3 years ago by Clare

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and its associated symptoms of bloating, constipation and diarrhoea can be a debilitating and lifestyle changing problem to deal with. Even more frustrating, is the fact that it is often really hard to know what the cause of your IBS is. Recently there has been a surge of interest in how the genetic make-up of our gut bacteria may have a causal effect on digestive conditions.


Specific RNA have been found to influence the likelihood of bloating


A study recently published in the American Journal of Physiology showed a significant association between the microbiota (our gut bacteria) and IBS and its associated symptom, bloating. His study1, headed up by Tamar Ringel-Kulka investigated the relationship between the gut bacteria, abdominal bloating and altered bowel patterns in a group of patients with IBS and a healthy control group. A particular gene the 16S rRNA gene, which appears to be identified with IBS symptoms, was extracted from faecal samples given by each participant. These extracted genes were then amplified and 'pyrosequenced', and then converted into statistical results. The results showed a difference in presence of that particular gene, between those participants who were healthy, and those with IBS. The researchers concluded that ‘these changes in the microbiota may serve as a biomarker for IBS and it’s clinical subtypes and suggest a role for the intestinal microbiota in the pathogenesis of the main symptoms of the disorder’. Or in plain English, if we can identify particular genes with IBS (such as the 16S rRNA) we may be able to genetically predict the onset of IBS from our gut bacteria, as well as influence our gut bacteria to reduce the symptoms.

This is not the only study linking genetics to IBS symptoms. Several recent studies, including one published in Gastroenterology2 have suggested a similar connection. There is a general consensus that the molecular make-up of our gut bacteria has an impact on bloating and therefore can also work as an indicator of bloating, or IBS. However, more studies are needed to clarify the specifics of this.

In short then, although there is a massive diversity of bacteria in our gut, it is in fact a very ordered environment. Each group of bacteria have certain roles to play, and places to go. Research is finding more and more that particular bacteria with certain molecular structures are found in those people with IBS symptoms, such as bloating. The suggestion is that genes denoting these molecular differences are passed down through the generations (this happens during a natural birth as the baby passes through the birth canal when it ingests it's mother's bacteria), therefore making someone related to someone with IBS, more likely to develop IBS themselves.

These findings extend from IBS and bloating to all sorts of other areas of research such as how your microbiome is related to obesity, mood and even auto immune diseases.  This area of study is called Genomics, a mapping of our entire genetic make-up. A sub area of this is the study of the microbiome, which was initiated by 'The Human Microbiome project'. This was a huge 5 year study launched in 2008 by the National Institutes of Health in the USA, which has brought to light some fascinating information about how our gut bacteria is characterized by our genetics, as well as the relationship between disease and changes in the human microbiome.

The Human Microbiome Project will address some of the most inspiring, vexing and fundamental scientific questions today. Importantly, it also has the potential to break down the artificial barriers between medical microbiology and environmental microbiology. It is hoped that the HMP will not only identify new ways to determine health and predisposition to diseases but also define the parameters needed to design, implement and monitor strategies for intentionally manipulating the human microbiota, to optimize its performance in the context of an individual's physiology.’3

This study shows again, that the development of new technologies and tools for analysing our microbiome is going through rapid changes. This in turn may enable us to predict symptoms and our predisposition to conditions, including IBS and bloating. An exciting prospect.

Want further reading on why we may bloat? Try reading A reminder of the link between stress, anxiety and bloating, or Does birth control cause bloating?


1.Tamar Ringel-Kulker (2015) Molecular Characterization of the Intestinal Microbiota in Patients With and Without Abdominal Bloating 2015 Vol. no. , DOI: 10.1152/ajpgi.00044.2015

2. Mirjana Rajilić–Stojanović⁎ (2011) Global and Deep Molecular Analysis of Microbiota Signatures in Fecal Samples From Patients With Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Gastroenterology, Vol 141, issue 5

3. Turnbaugh, P. J.; Ley, R. E.; Hamady, M.; Fraser-Liggett, C. M.; Knight, R.; Gordon, J. I. (2007). "The Human Microbiome Project". Nature 449 (7164): 804–810. doi:10.1038/nature06244. PMID 17943116.

Guila Enders (2014) Gut Scribe

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