The (potential) microbiota of superheroes

The (potential) microbiota of superheroes

Kevin Meza Achahue, Scientist - R&D Specialist at Bifidice & Sandra Hurtado Medina, Chief of Science at Bifidice. 4 minutes reading.

Have you ever wondered what lies within the guts of a superhero or supervillain? This question, which may seem nonsensical in everyday reality, opens the door to an intriguing journey of exploration into the unknown. As we already know, the gut microbiota, the ecosystem of microorganisms that inhabits our intestines, has fundamental implications for our health, and maintaining a balanced microbiota is of utmost importance. 

In this blog, we will think outside the box and venture beyond the surface of fiction to explore how the intestinal microbiota could be key in the biology and behavior of these iconic characters, grounded in real scientific foundations.

In a galaxy far, far away...

When Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was released in 1999, one of the new elements introduced (and a source of controversy among fans of the saga) was the existence of life forms that reside within all living organisms, serving as the bridge between the host and the Force: the midi-chlorians. According to Star Wars lore, the higher the concentration of midi-chlorians, the greater the sensitivity of the carrier to the Force.

Although in real life there is no concept of "The Force," there is recent research and a growing interest in the importance of the microbiota and its connection with the brain

While this concept did not emerge as a direct reference, the parallel with the microbiota, especially the gut microbiota, is quite evident. And although in real life there is no concept of "The Force," there is recent research and a growing interest in the importance of the microbiota and its connection with the brain, which can modulate behavior and mood. 

If you want to learn more about the connections between the microbiota and the brain, I recommend the following blog:

https://bifidice.solutions/blogs/noticias/what-do-we-know-about-the-microbiota-gut-brain-axis

Let's delve into some "superpowers."

Even though we know that the intestinal microbiota won't grant you any superpowers beyond a healthy life (which is still a huge benefit in itself), several intriguing physiological characteristics have been linked to changes in the composition of microorganisms in the gut. Here are a few examples.

The Super Strength 

In fiction, many superheroes possess the ability to be stronger than the average human, a quality they use in their heroic deeds. Interestingly, changes in the composition of the gut microbiota are also associated with better physical condition. Evidence suggests that physical exercise is capable of inducing significant changes in the gut microbial composition, with variations depending on the type of exercise the individual undergoes.

The gut microbiota can regulate skeletal muscle through various mechanisms.

For example, the presence of certain bacteria such as Faecalibacterium prausnitzii and Veillonella atypica has been associated with improved exercise performance in mice and marathon runners, respectively [1][2]. The gut microbiota can regulate skeletal muscle through various mechanisms, such as modulating inflammation, energy metabolism, and muscle protein synthesis. 

If you want to learn more about how the microbiota and probiotics play an important role in sports, check out the following article: 

https://bifidice.solutions/blogs/noticias/what-is-the-impact-of-probiotics-in-sports 

Fast Regeneration

Some of the most iconic fictional characters like Wolverine or Deadpool possess the ability to rapidly regenerate any kind of injury, allowing them to continue fighting. While the intestinal microbiota may not achieve such a level of enhancement, it has been observed to play a significant role in the swift regeneration of injuries or wounds. This is due to its direct relationship with the immune system, inflammation, and metabolic processes.

Alterations in the gut microbiota have been linked to the secondary progression of the injury and neuroinflammation in mice

In the context of spinal cord injuries, for instance, research has revealed that the intestinal microbiota influences recovery by modulating the neuroinflammatory response and impacting central neurons. [3] Similarly, in the case of traumatic brain injuries, alterations in the gut microbiota have been linked to the secondary progression of the injury and neuroinflammation in mice, suggesting a potential therapeutic avenue through the restoration of the gut microbiome [4].

Lastly, the intestinal microbiota has been associated with tissue regeneration in the gut, with studies showing that specific bacterial populations become enriched during the wound healing process, contributing to the restoration of intestinal barrier functions and mucosal repair. [5][6]

Longevity

Finally, another important attribute of several superheroes and supervillains is the ability to live for hundreds or thousands of years, something impossible for humans. While a change in the microbiota is not the secret to immortality, there is research directly linking the intestinal microbiota to age-related changes across multiple species. Studies have shown that modifications in the intestinal microbiota, particularly in older individuals, can affect health parameters, predisposition to age-related diseases, or the promotion of healthy aging. [7][8

While a change in the microbiota is not the secret to immortality, there is research directly linking the intestinal microbiota to age-related changes across multiple species

Research indicates that dysbiosis of the intestinal microbiota is a marker of age-related diseases, and microbiota modulators such as probiotics and postbiotics have shown evidence as geroprotectors. These components have been studied for their potential to delay immune system senescence, prevent mitochondrial dysfunction, and regulate food intake and metabolism, all of which are important aspects of biological aging. [9][10][11]

Last but not least, factors such as diet, exercise, and lifestyle influence the intestinal microbiota, highlighting the potential of interventions such as prebiotics, probiotics, and a healthy lifestyle to modulate the microbiome and improve health outcomes in aging individuals.

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References

[1] Wegierska, A. E., Charitos, I. A., Topi, S., Potenza, M. A., Montagnani, M., & Santacroce, L. (2022). The Connection Between Physical Exercise and Gut Microbiota: Implications for Competitive Sports Athletes. Sports Medicine, 52(10), 2355–2369. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-022-01696-x 

[2] Li, G., Jin, B., & Fan, Z. (2022). Mechanisms Involved in Gut Microbiota Regulation of Skeletal Muscle. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2022, 2151191. https://doi.org/10.1155/2022/2151191 

[3] Cui, Y., Liu, J., Lei, X., Liu, S., Chen, H., Wei, Z., Li, H., Yang, Y., Zheng, C., & Li, Z. (2024). Dual-directional regulation of spinal cord injury and the gut microbiota. Neural Regeneration Research, 19(3), 548–556. https://doi.org/10.4103/1673-5374.380881 

[4] Celorrio, M., & Friess, S. H. (2022). Gut-brain axis in traumatic brain injury: impact on neuroinflammation. Neural Regeneration Research, 17(5), 1007–1008. https://doi.org/10.4103/1673-5374.324839

[5] Díaz-Díaz, L. M., Rodríguez-Villafañe, A., & García-Arrarás, J. E. (2021). The Role of the Microbiota in Regeneration-Associated Processes. Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology, 9, 768783. https://doi.org/10.3389/fcell.2021.768783

[6] Alam, A., & Neish, A. (2018). Role of gut microbiota in intestinal wound healing and barrier function. Tissue Barriers, 6(3), 1539595. https://doi.org/10.1080/21688370.2018.1539595

[7] Salazar, J., Durán, P., Díaz, M. P., Chacín, M., Santeliz, R., Mengual, E., Gutiérrez, E., León, X., Díaz, A., Bernal, M., Escalona, D., Parra Hernández, L. A., & Bermúdez, V. (2023). Exploring the Relationship between the Gut Microbiota and Ageing: A Possible Age Modulator. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 20(10), 5845. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph20105845

[8] Brooks, C. N., Wight, M. E., Azeez, O. E., & Bleich, R. M. (2023). Growing old together: What we know about the influence of diet and exercise on the aging host's gut microbiome. Frontiers in Sports and Active Living, 5, 1168731. https://doi.org/10.3389/fspor.2023.1168731 

[9] Miller, B. C., Mathai, M., Yadav, H., & Jain, S. (2024). Geroprotective potential of microbiome modulators in the Caenorhabditis elegans model. Geroscience, 46(1), 129–151. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11357-023-00901-7

[10] Bosco, N., & Noti, M. (2021). The aging gut microbiome and its impact on host immunity. Genes & Immunity, 22(5-6), 289–303. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41435-021-00126-8 

[11] Bonfili, L., Cecarini, V., Berardi, S., Scarpona, S., Suchodolski, J. S., Nasuti, C., Fiorini, D., Boarelli, M. C., & Rossi, G. (2017). Microbiota modulation counteracts Alzheimer's disease progression influencing neuronal proteolysis and gut hormones plasma levels. Scientific Reports, 7(1), 2426. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-02587-2

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