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Studying Gut Microbiota on a Functional Level

Image courtesy of Christoph Burgstedt / Alamy Stock Photo 3D illustration of gut microbiota
Researchers in Finland developed a new method for studying the functionality of gut microbiota through metaproteomics.

A research group from Turku Bioscience Centre, Finland, has developed a new method for studying the functionality of gut microbiota through metaproteomics. 

The new method poses broad potential for the study of microbiota on a new, functional level. The characterization of the functionality of gut microbiota is central in the study of human health and disease as well as disease prediction, prevention, and treatment. Previous studies have mainly focused on cataloguing the composition of microbiota, but little is known about the functionality of the human gut microbiota, the researchers noted.

Proteins are essential for the vital functions of the body. They manage most of the cell functions and enable complex interactions between the cell and its environment. The study of proteins can therefore offer extensive information about the different functions of cells. Protein analyses can be used broadly in medical research, including gut microbiome profiling. The important role of the gut microbiota on human health and their role in different diseases has been recognized in studies published in recent years.

Laura Elo is the professor who led the researchers in developing a new mass spectrometry-based method, which enables extensive studying of protein levels in complex gut microbiota samples.

“Until recently, the research on microbiota has strongly focused on discovering which microbes are present in a sample but analyzing the functionality of the microbiota has been challenging. Recent technological advancements have however also enabled a deeper dive into the functionalities. The study of the protein levels in microbiota samples is one such rising research field, making it possible for us to reach a broader understanding of the functionality and dynamics of microbiota,” Elo said.

The recently developed method uses newest mass spectrometry technology and advanced computational methods which enable significantly better coverage and reproducibility of the results as opposed to previous methods.

“The new method we have developed for analyzing complex protein data produces more reliable results than previous methods,” said Postdoctoral Researcher Sami Pietilä. “The currently used research methods typically only analyze the most abundant proteins, which causes fluctuation in the results from one analysis to another. The new method analyses the samples systematically and produces reliable results without this type of fluctuation."

The computational method has been published as open-source software and is freely accessible for the research community.

“It has been extremely important for us to bring this newly developed method available for all researchers as an easy-to-use application. We are also prepared to engage in further development and maintenance of this tool,” said Postdoctoral Researcher Tomi Suomi.

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