Tuesday 9 February 2016

Bears' seasonal hibernation linked to changes in gut microbes

Date: February 4, 2016
Source: Cell Press

Each year, as bears prepare to hibernate, they gorge themselves on food to pack on fat. And yet, despite the rapid weight gain, the animals somehow avoid the health consequences so often associated with obesity in humans. Now, researchers reporting in Cell Reports on February 4 show that the bears' shifting metabolic status is associated with significant changes in their gut microbes.
Fredrik Bäckhed of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, who led the new study, said he was particularly struck by the discovery that the bears' summer gut microbiota includes microbes that take in more energy from the diet.

"The restructuring of the microbiota into a more avid energy harvester during summer, which potentially contributes to the increased adiposity gain without impairing glucose metabolism, is quite striking," he said.

Bäckhed and his colleagues showed more than 10 years ago that the composition of the gut microbiota can influence the amount of energy harvested from the diet. Much more recently, they found that the microbiota also shifts in people who are obese and in those with type 2 diabetes. That led them to wonder whether changes to the microbiota might also be important in hibernating brown bears in the wild.

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