Inside the nooks and crannies of our intestines, a population of some 100,000 billion bacteria weighs more than our brain! This giant ecosystem that we live in symbiosis with is our intestinal microbiota. For a half a century and counting, INRA researchers have been exploring this microworld: its composition, its genes that outnumber ours 25 times, its interactions with our bodies, its defects and the consequences of those defects… INRA is a world leader in research on human intestinal metagenomics, a field that is revolutionising science, nutrition and medicine.
All throughout the digestive tract, intestinal bacteria are the interface between food and the human body. While the role of this microbiota is first and foremost to protect the body, it is also involved in several diseases, be they inflammatory, metabolic or neurological. Indeed, intestinal bacteria can control inflammation, hunger, and even mood. Nevertheless, changes in this ecosystem are associated with numerous chronic diseases that are on the rise. Researchers today see a link between changes in the microbiota and obesity, diabetes, allergies, and even anxiety, depression and autism.
What do scientists know about this symbiosis? Are all men equal when it comes to the intestinal dialogue between cells and bacteria? How should the microbiota be nourished? Are probiotics really useful? How do intestinal bacteria shape behaviour? How do these microorganisms evolve over the course of a lifetime?
INRA researchers are carrying out many studies and finding answers to these questions. Their findings give a glimpse of the tremendous potential when it comes to well-being and health. The research will undoubtedly shed light on how individuals react to medical treatment or disease, and on the link between food and health. Doors are also opening to more personalised health solutions, and even preventive nutrition and medicine.
INRA scientists are also interested in the microbiota of animals. The reasons for this are many: a better understanding of the microbiota of cow rumen could lead to an improved climate; analysing the microbiota of ticks carries high stakes for public health; and publishing a catalogue of genes of the intestinal microbiota of swine will allow INRA researchers to blaze trails in biomedical research and livestock production.
A scientific and medical revolution is underway. Learn all about it in the pages that follow.