Gut Microbiota

How to eat poison and get away with it

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Science  08 Aug 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6197, pp. 634-635
DOI: 10.1126/science.345.6197.634-f

A deadly creosote bush in the Mojave Desert

PHOTO: © FLOWERPHOTOS/ALAMY

Plants such as the creosote bush can't run away from grazing animals; instead, they defend themselves by making poisonous compounds for defense. Woodrats living in the Mojave Desert detoxify these chemicals in their livers, allowing them to safely eat this plant. Now Kohl et al. find that woodrats have another resource to draw on: their gut microbes. Bacteria in their guts use an enzyme called aryl alcohol dehydrogenase to detoxify the chemicals. When the team treated woodrats with antibiotics and fed them creosote, the animals suffered toxic effects. However, when the woodrats simultaneously ate microbes from untreated animals, they stayed resistant to the toxin. The woodrats' gut microbes let them thrive in a tough environment populated by plants nobody else wants to eat.

Ecol. Lett. 10.1111/ele.12329 (2014).

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