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The bacterial ecosystem in the lower intestine has become something of a playground in recent years for researchers keen on exploring the links between an unhealthy microbiome and various chronic diseases. But a team of scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, has taken this research a step further by connecting the growth rates of certain bacteria with a propensity for illnesses such as type 2 diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease.

Earlier research studied a static “snapshot” of the bacterial population in the gut in an effort to determine its effects on human health. The Weizmann team, supervised by Eran Segal, a professor of computer science and applied mathematics, and immunology professor Eran Elinav, MD, PhD, focused on how quickly specific strains of bacteria grew. The results of their study, published in a recent issue of the journal Science, suggest that observing growth rates can reveal links to diseases more effectively than a bacterial snapshot.

“Now we can finally say something about how the dynamics of microbiome are associated with a propensity to disease,” Elinav said. “Microbial growth rate reveals things about our health that cannot be seen with any other analysis method.”

This new approach could help doctors diagnose diseases earlier and better determine whether to use a probiotic or antibiotic treatment protocol.

For more on how your microbiome affects your health, see “Your Microbiome: The Ecosystem Inside” in our June 2013 issue.

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