an ethnic specific gut bacteria has been found. japanese are better able to digest seaweed b/c they have a bacteria in their guts that breaks down algal cell walls. the only other place this ability is found is in marine bacteria.
According to the researchers, the enzyme helps Z. galactanivorans eat red algae, which westerners know best as the nori seaweed wrapping around sushi rolls. At some unknown points and in some unknown stomachs in the Japanese past, the enzyme-coding gene passed from Z. galactanivorans and into B. plebeius. That lucky microbe would have benefited from a newfound ability to process red algae, spreading through its stomach environment and eventually the human population, who in turn derived more nutrients from an algae-rich diet.
“Often the question comes, ‘I’ve been eating sushi for two years now. Do I have this enzyme?’ The answer is, these are very rare events,” said Czjzek. “In the early days, seaweed wasn’t sterilized. Nowadays, it’s cooked, roasted and prepared. The chance to have this type of transfer is much lower.”
That’s likely the case with most types of food, said Gewirtz. As for whether “that’s a good or a bad thing, it’s hard to say,” he said. But Justin Sonnenburg, a Stanford University microbiologist who wrote a commentary accompanying the findings, is concerned.
“Consumption of hyper-hygienic, mass-produced, highly-processed and calorie-dense foods is testing how rapidly the microbiota of individuals in industrialized countries can adapt while being deprived of the environmental reservoirs of microbial genes,” he wrote.
i didn’t know how gut bacteria was passed down, but thankfully wiki has that covered. infants inhale or ingest the bacteria from the mom’s feces at birth. wtf ?
this makes me wonder about the gut bacteria of world travelers. if they travel and eat exotic foods from all over the world, would that possibly make their stomachs super digesters?
ed yong has more on the topic.