Microbial Metabolism in the Mammalian Gut: Molecular Mechanisms and Clinical Implications

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Abstract

Human intestinal microbes participate actively at the interface of diet, nutrition, and overall health status. These biodiverse communities of microorganisms have a broader metabolic repertoire compared with their host, and they are able to synthesize and degrade substrates that would be otherwise unavailable. In recent years, we have recognized that healthy microbial communities are important for energy harvest and the regulation of body systems outside the digestive tract. Microbial dysbiosis, however, has been implicated in a number of human disorders, including obesity and inflammation. This dichotomy highlights the need to understand the factors that determine the composition and metabolic output of our resident and transient microbes. Throughout the human lifespan, we know that diet plays a major role in shaping gut microbial communities, as well as directing the types and amounts of metabolites produced. Understanding the factors that affect microbial metabolic output within the host may help identify the roles of microbes in health, as well as new targets for treatment in disease. In this article, we review facets of the assembly and activities of the healthy human intestinal microbiome, as well as ways that the microbiota has been shown to influence the host via metabolism of two dietary macronutrients: carbohydrates and amino acids.

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