Newly Discovered Proteins Could Explain The Power Of Gut Bacteria

Bacteria in the gut produce thousands of tiny proteins unknown to date, say US scientists, who say their discovery is shaking up current medical knowledge. Explanations.

The human body is, even today, a mysterious world. The recent work of Dr. Ami Bhatt and her colleagues at the Stanford University School of Medicine in California, which established that the bacteria that make up the intestinal microbiome, formerly known as of intestinal flora, produce tens of thousands of proteins so small that they went unnoticed so far.

Almost all of these newly described proteins perform unknown functions, which makes researchers say that a new frontier is opening up in our understanding of human biology.


  • The intestinal microbiome is a colony of 100,000 billion bacteria lining the approximately 400 m2 of its surface;
  • It weighs between one and five kilos, and feeds on what we eat;
  • It is composed largely of beneficial bacteria;
  • It is sometimes compared to a “second brain” of the human body;
  • Several diseases are linked to imbalances in bacterial diversity.

A real gold mine

The newly identified proteins in the intestinal microbiome belong to more than 4000 new biological families. The latter must, according to the authors of this work, participate to varying degrees:

the battle between the different bacterial strains in the microbiome;
cell-to-cell communication between bacteria and their unconscious hosts;
essential daily tasks ensuring the health and well-being of bacteria.
“It’s important to understand the interface between human cells and the microbiome,” says Dr. Ami Bhatt.

How do bacteria communicate? How do different strains protect themselves from others?

Ami Bhatt, researcher at Stanford University
The authors of this work, published in the journal Cell (Nouvelle fenĂȘtre ), believe that the proteins they have discovered may well provide the answer to these questions.

Their very small size, of the order of up to 50 amino acids, makes them more likely to be secreted outside the cell than larger proteins, the researchers say.

It is likely that proteins fold into unique forms that represent biological elements that had never been identified before.

Researcher Ami Bhatt

“If the forms and functions of these proteins can be recreated in the lab, they could help researchers advance the scientific understanding of the effects of the microbiome on human health,” says Dr. Bhatt.

The bacterial genome

“The bacterial genome is like a book with long chains of letters, only a few of which encode the information needed to make proteins,” says the researcher.

Traditionally, we identify the presence of protein-coding genes in the book by looking for combinations of letters that indicate the “start” and “end” signals. It works well for larger proteins, but the smaller the protein, the less accurate the technique.

Researcher Ami Bhatt

During this work, the researchers conducted a genomic analysis using a new computational approach that compared large datasets of potentially coding genes for small proteins.

A technique that has not only found hundreds of genes coding for small proteins, but tens of thousands.

Finding thousands of new protein families has surprised us all!

Researcher Ami Bhatt

Scientists must now establish the biological functions of these proteins. A whole new field of study is opening up and could lead to the creation of new drugs.

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