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Research Department of Genetics
University Medical Center Groningen

Microbiome paper award & media coverage

12 November 2015

A study by a team of researchers from the Genetics Department lead by Dr. Jingyuan Fu and Dr. Sasha Zhernakova, “Gut Microbiome Contributes to a Substantial Proportion of the Variation in Blood Lipids" that was published in the American Heart Association’s journal has been honored as one of Circulation Research’s Best Manuscripts of 2015. This study demonstrated a clear linkage between the gut microbiome composition and body weight, triglyceride and good cholesterol levels. It has received worldwide press coverage and, within one month of its publication, online news coverage of this study had been viewed more than a 172 million times according to the American Heart Association.

Microbiome and Blood Lipids

Abnormal blood lipid levels are important risk factors for cardiovascular diseases (CVD), and patients are commonly advised to follow a healthy lifestyle and/or take lipid-lowering drugs like statins to control their blood lipid level. However, according to the World Health Organization, CVD remains the number one cause of death globally, representing 31% of all deaths in 2012. Fu et al. (2015) now provides solid evidence that gut bacteria can be one risk factor in CVD.

LifeLines is a large biobank that stores the biomaterial of more than 167,000 participants from the north of the Netherlands. A subset of ~1500 participants also took part in LifeLines-DEEP, providing additional biological materials for genome-wide genotyping and analysis of the gut microbial composition.

This study used data from some 1,000 LifeLines-Deep participants and is the largest study to date linking gut bacteria to blood lipids. T he authors addressed, for the first time, how much of the variation in BMI and blood lipids can be explained by gut bacteria. They show that the gut microbiome explains a substantial proportion of the variation (4-6%) in BMI, triglycerides and HDL cholesterol. The strength of association of HDL cholesterol with gut bacteria is very comparable to the variation explained by genetic make-up alone, and the association strength is even higher for BMI and triglycerides. More importantly, unlike the risk factors of age, gender and genetics, the gut microbiome can be targeted for intervention.

There are >1,000 bacterial species inside a person’s gut, although the functions of the majority of them remain unclear. Fu et al.’s study reported 34 microorganisms associated with BMI and blood lipids, and the authors hope that their results will inspire microbiologists to perform further functional studies and physicians to look at clinical applications.

Last modified:20 October 2016 12.16 p.m.
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