Bacteria Tell Us What to Eat

Joan Slonczewski, intriguing insights ‘inside’ us.


When Brain Plaguecame out (still my favorite book), reviewers sniffed that microbial aliens were “impossible.”  They didn’t ask the microbiologists. Today, the microbiologists are homing in on our gut microbiota. “Take me to your leader” may mean taking a look inside your gut.

Why do we eat what we eat–and why does it “taste good”?  Increasing evidence suggests that our gut bacteria, which digest much of our food, put out products that act as neurotransmitters that tell us to eat the foods the gut bacteria want. Known neurotransmitters produced by bacteria include glutamate, glutamine, and agmatine (all nitrogen-containing carbon compounds related to amino acids of protein). But research suggests that a large number of other neurotransmitters remain to be discovered.

How could the microbes do this? Either they might cause signals that increase our desire for foods they can digest; or the microbes could produce mild toxins that…

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