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Study suggests probiotic to prevent obesity possible


July 28, 2014

Researchers have modified a strain of E. coli to produce a lipid compound called NAPE in the gut (Image: Shutterstock)

Researchers have modified a strain of E. coli to produce a lipid compound called NAPE in the gut (Image: Shutterstock)

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Researchers at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee have raised hopes for the possibility of developing of a probiotic to treat obesity and other chronic diseases. The team inhibited weight gain, insulin resistance and various other negative health effects of a high-fat diet in mice by modifying bacteria to produce a therapeutic compound in the gut.

With previous studies having demonstrated that so-called "good" bacteria naturally found in the gut plays a role in obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, Sean Davies, Ph.D., an assistant professor of Pharmacology at Vanderbilt, set out to see if it was possible to manipulate gut microbiota to promote health.

Davies and his team started with E. coli Nissle 1917, which is a safe bacterial strain that colonizes the human gut and has been used as a probiotic treatment for diarrhea for nearly 100 years. They then genetically modified the strain to produce a lipid compound called NAPE, which is normally synthesized in the small intestine when it processes fat and suppresses appetite.

After the NAPE-producing bacteria were added to the drinking water of mice fed a high-fat diet for eight weeks, the researchers found they had dramatically lower food intake, body fat, insulin resistance and fatty liver compared to mice that received control bacteria.

At least four weeks after the NAPE-producing bacteria were removed from the drinking water. the protective effects persisted, with the mice still having a much lower body weight and body fat compared to the control group some 12 weeks after the NAPE-producing bacteria were removed. This is despite no active bacteria persisting after about six weeks. However, Davies says the ultimate goal is to have a one off treatment.

"This paper provides a proof of concept," he said. "Clearly, we can get enough bacteria to persist in the gut and have a sustained effect. We would like for that effect to last longer."

The approach may also provide a way to deliver to therapeutics to parts of the body outside the gut, with the team also observing effects of the NAPE compound in the liver.

"Of course it’s hard to speculate from mouse to human," added Davies. "But essentially, we’ve prevented most of the negative consequences of obesity in mice, even though they’re eating a high-fat diet."

Before it can move onto human studies, the team says it needs to address regulatory issues related to containing the bacteria, such as knocking out genes required for the bacteria to live outside the host.

The team's paper is published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Source: Vanderbilt University

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

We have a lot to learn about the residents of our gut. Folks like me born in 1942 are the first to live in the time antibiotics were used. I have just fully realized what they can do my gut and how much the micoflora of my gut has to do with me.

I have also had a glimpse of the future that "Richness of human gut microbiome correlates with metabolic markers"[a] touches on but I expect they under estimate as the tools to fully comprehend the diversity of the number of different organisms in our gut isn't fully developed.

We expect a great deal from this information. I think we underestimate the effect what the micro-flora of our gut does for us.


a. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v500/n7464/abs/nature12506.html

Gordon Couger

What happens when this GE bug gets loose in the environment?


if they do ,first of all I want it second of all i'll be investing in all company's that make ice cream


Possible all they've successfully done is put mice into ketosis...?


It has been known for some time now that people who are thin and seem to be able to eat lots of food without gaining weight have a gut biome of twice as twice as many species as those whom gain weight easily.

Another interesting finding was that we know stomach stapling leads to weight loss, what has now been discovered is that somehow it also doubles the gut biome to the level of thin people, why this occurs is still being studied.

There has been some research showing a fecal transplant from a thin person will increase the biome in a fat person and lead to loosing weight.

Overweight people have always been blamed for lack of self control and relegated to a second class status, so if the science has largely disproved this, where will people find another "whipping boy" to look down on and make jokes about?


Look up repoopulate. It's a "synthetic" fecal transplant. It's a culture of 33 different strains of bacteria taken from the intestines of healthy people who hadn't taken any antibiotics for at least a decade.

Gregg Eshelman

Of Course when the Apocalypse happens all these skinny people who can't gain weight will die off like flies... Hahaha

Matthew Jacobs

Funny, they mention, "They then genetically modified the strain to produce a lipid compound called NAPE," and no one is trying to bankrupt this research. It is hard to understand how some can be so against genetically modifying somethings, but not others...Oh well.

I think this could really be a great thing, however, if some people would move away from high-fat diets their guts would greatly improve themselves without adding synthetic medications. I know mine has. We recently moved to a more vegetable/fruits/low carb diet and it has greatly improved our overall health.


Treating the symptom and not the cause. The people are hungry for real food.

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