Highlights in the 4th Asia Microbiome Conference: Trends in the microbial industry, top ten global trends in gastrointestinal microbiota, non-bacterial microbiota in colorectal cancer, and second-generation probiotic

The intestinal flora, which was often forgotten in the past, was warmly discussed at the 4th Asia Microbiome Conference, which was held in Taiwan at the beginning of 2020. This forum is hosted by Tools Biotechnology, Academia Sinica’s Institute of Biological Chemistry, National Taiwan University Hospital, and Taipei Medical University. Well-known experts and scholars from different parts of Asia gathered in Taiwan to share the latest trends and research in the human microbiome. The conference aimed to stimulate more innovation momentum and opens up more opportunities in Taiwan’s microbiome research by gathering the best ideas and opinions from the industry, government, and academia.

Rigorous scientific certification are required in microbial research and products

In the opening speech, Dr. Ming-Shiang Wu, the vice president of National Taiwan University Hospital, said that the global market for microbial products is valued at USD 31 billion in 2017 and is projected to reach USD 57.5 billion by 2025. Taiwan’s gut microbiota industry is also growing rapidly with the help of both industry and government funding.  In fact, Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology and other government units have also been increasing the research funding for gut microbiota research. 

Numerous research found that intestinal bacteria not only affect intestinal health, but may also affect the human brain, heart, kidney, liver, immune system, digestion and cancer. In addition, intestinal health can also affect cognitive function and athletic performance. For example, marathon runners have many more intestinal probiotics. However, therapies to alter the gut microbiota still need rigorous certification. Vice President Wu went on to mention that a widely reported Chinese biotechnology company recently claimed that their seaweed extracts can reshape the intestinal flora and treat Alzheimer’s disease. However, US experts immediately issued a warning, questioning the effectiveness of the seaweed extras. Therefore, before clinical use, all products must undergo rigorous scientific certification to avoid excessive speculation.

 

Top ten global trends in gastrointestinal microbiota

Can-hui Lan, Chairman of Beijing Rexinchang Biotechnology Research Institute Co., Ltd., shared ten global trends in gastrointestinal microbiota research:

  1. From casual association of diseases with gut microbiota to actual mechanistic role of the microbiota in diseases.
  2. Extending the gut microbiota research from bacteria to fungi and virus groups
  3. Increasing number of pros & cons research on these topics: Butyric acid, soluble dietary fiber, probiotics
  4. Personalized treatment
  5. From probiotics to prebiotics; engineering and fecal transplants; postbiotics
  6. Interaction between intestinal flora and distal organs: intestinal brain axis, intestinal liver axis, intestinal kidney axis, intestinal lung axis, intestinal skin axis, etc.
  7. Increasing number of large-scale and long-term array clinical studies, which included both trials and real-world studies
  8. Integration of multiple omics data (macrogenomics) + multiple interdisciplinary studies
  9. 16S sequencing to macrogenomics studies + sequencing species to strain analysis
  10. Transformation from basic research to clinical application

 

The role of fungi and viruses in colorectal cancer

The research team of Professor Jun Yu at the Chinese University of Hong Kong analyzed the microbiological status of colorectal cancer patients through metagenomic sequencing. It was found that bacteria accounted for 99.4%, fungi 0.19%, archaea 0.38%, and virus 0.03%. Due to the low percentage of fungi in the intestine, the number of samples must be large and the sequencing must be deep when studying the relationship of fungi with colorectal cancer. Therefore the group collected approximately 585 human subjects’  faeces (more than 420 Hong Kong colorectal cancer patients and nearly 165 healthy people) to study the relationship between fungi and colorectal cancer. Using macrogenomic sequencing, it was found that the fungal distribution of colorectal cancer patients and healthy people is different. In addition, the fungal distribution of early and advanced colorectal cancer is also different. Further analysis on fungal species suggests that, fungal species can diagnose colorectal cancer with high accuracy (AUC 0.93) as compared with healthy people. Fungal species can also diagnose early stage colorectal cancer with high accuracy (AUC 0.91) as compared with healthy people. The results of this study is coherent  with a clinical study that conducted in Europe (France and Germany), which involved 194 subjects (early colorectal cancer and healthy people). The European study suggests that change in fungal species can differentiate early colorectal cancer and healthy people with AUC more than 0.7. It was hypothesized that fungi and bacteria will repel each other, but fungi and fungi will work together to promote the occurrence of colorectal cancer.

On the other hand, it was found that the diversity of viruses (phages) increases but the diversity of bacteria decreases in colorectal cancer, and the diversity of viruses/bacteria are significantly negatively correlated. Further analysis revealed that the abundance of 22 specific viruses was found in colorectal cancer. Three of these 22 viruses are associated with poor prognosis in colorectal cancer patients. However, the role and function of the virus in colorectal cancer still needs further verification and research.

 

Chinese herbal medicine-derived second-generation probiotics to strike the balance of gastrointestinal microbiota

Chang Gung University’s professor Hsin-Chih Lai explores whether specific molecules in chinese herbal medicinal plant/mushrooms can help the intestinal microbial environment of the human body reach a healthy equilibrium state, by rigorous Western scientific methods. It is hypothesized that the herbal extracts, can reduce inflammation by promoting intestinal microbial equilibrium, and treat/prevent diseases. Several herbal extracts have been found to improve human diseases, which includes Ganoderma lucidum, Cordyceps sinensis, Brazilian mushroom, and Antrodia cinnamomea. It was found that all of these herbal extracts can improve the outcome of a variety of animal models (obesity, colon cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,and enterovirus infection) by promoting the distribution and balance of Parabacteroides goldsteinii MTS01, Pg MTS01 community. Specifically, Ganoderma lucidum water-extract was found to increase the number of Pg MTS01, which led to reduced obesity, metabolic inflammation, and chronic obstructive pneumonia in mice fed with high-fat diet. However, the specific molecular mechanisms on how herbal extracts can work through lymph nodes remains to be clarified. Professor Lai also cautioned that second-generation probiotic should be reviewed using the same standard as drugs as they have not been consumed in the past and have not been fermented in large quantities. In fact, some research pointed out that a second-generation probiotic has drug resistance genes, and the whole gene was subsequently analyzed by macrogenomic sequencing. Sequencing result confirms that there are no drug resistance genes or other therapeutic factors in the second-generation probiotics. Hence, it is crucial that related research and clinical trials have to be more rigorous.

Article by GeneOnline and translated by Dr.Gabriel Lee

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