Getting to Grips with Gut Flora

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Science  02 Jun 2006:
Vol. 312, Issue 5778, pp. 1273g
DOI: 10.1126/science.312.5778.1273g

At least 10 trillion microorganisms inhabit our lower intestinal tract; without them, we could not process the bulk of our food, and we would be vulnerable to the damaging effects of ingested toxins. Gill et al. (p. 1355) present a detailed metagenomic analysis of human intestinal microflora. Colonic bacteria and archaea not only help to keep the gut wall intact and healthy; they supply us with a suite of glycoside hydrolases to digest plant carbohydrates, trophic chains of organisms for fermentation of fiber to short chain fatty acids, methanogenesis for hydrogen scrubbing, the means to synthesize amino acids and vitamins, and pathways for the transformation of xenobiotic compounds from plant phenolics to tetrachloroethene.

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