A Gut-Full of Probiotics for Your Neurological Well-Being

Probiotics, often referred to as ‘good bacteria’, are known to promote a healthy gut, but can they promote a healthy mind? Exploring the new world of neurological probiotics, researchers in BioEssays present new ideas on how neurochemicals delivered directly to the gut, via probiotic intestinal microbiota, exert their beneficial effects in maintaining gastrointestinal health and even psychological well-being.

The research, led by Professor Mark Lyte from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center,1 proposes that through a unifying process of microbial endocrinology, neurochemical-producing probiotics could act as a delivery mechanism for neuroactive compounds that could improve a host’s gastrointestinal and psychological health.

“This paper proposes a new field of microbial endocrinology, where microbiology meets neuroscience,” said Lyte. “There is already evidence to suggest that the connection between gut microbes and the nervous system represents a viable route for influencing neurological function. A recent study in mice, for example, showed that the presence of neurochemicals such a serotonin in the bloodstream was due to direct uptake from the gut.” Continue reading

An Horizon, a Porthole, and a New Book

Janine Selendy is what one might call an “accidental altruist.” Early in her teen years, she came face-to-face with the astonishingly poor living conditions faced by people living in Iran. This pivotal experience led Selendy away from her intended career in diplomacy and into a very busy life aimed at changing people’s lives at the level of their basic needs.

Selendy initially set out to become a doctor, and she soon began to participate in environmental health work such as the cleanup of PCBs in the Hudson river. However, the more she interacted with scientific literature, the more frustrated she became that the literature seemed filled only with negatives and problems, yet rarely addressed solutions or emphasized what was already being done about these problems.

To fill this gap, Selendy founded Horizon International, a non-profit organization based at Yale University which addresses health, environmental and poverty issues. In an era before the internet, Selendy also capitalized on the power of television to enlighten and inform a wider audience on these important issues, and to date she and her team have produced over twenty documentaries.

Next, Selendy and the leaders of Horizon International also sought and received funding from the National Science Foundation to create a program that would provide educational games and multimedia for young people. They named this website “Magic Porthole” because, “if you come in here, you don’t know what you’re going to find next!”

Amidst all of this activity, Selendy has also managed to find the time to edit a book, Water and Sanitation Related Diseases and the Environment: Challenges, Interventions and Preventive Measures, which will be published by Wiley next month (July 2011). The book chapters are authored by an array of high-profile scientists and public health leaders and cover topics that range from “water and war” to “diarrhea and nutrition.”

Selendy discusses her history, work, and aspirations in live interview hosted on the website VoiceAmerica.com. Listen and download the MP3 here.

Read a more detailed biography of Selendy here.

Find out more about Selendy’s book here.

Lactococcus lactis

In Wisconsin, the United States’ top cheese-producing state, it follows that the microbe responsible should finally earn accolades. Here is a profile of the illustrious microbe:

Name: Lactococcus lactis

Honors and Awards: A bill to recognize L. lactis as Wisconsin’s state microbe was passed by the Assembly on April 15, 2010 and awaits approval from the Senate.

Work Experience:

  • Cheese-making—Uses enzymes to convert lactose (milk sugar) into lactic acid. The acid lowers the milk’s pH, causing it to curdle; the curds are then removed to make cheese and whey. Used especially in the production of Cheddar, Colby, cottage cheese, cream cheese, Camembert, Roquefort, and Brie; also in curdled dairy products such as buttermilk and sour cream.
  • Vaccine delivery—Generates proteins from pathogens on the microbe’s cell surface and, when administered, induces an immune response to the protein and provides immunity to the pathogen. Primarily administered via mucosal pathways, especially to provide immunity to Streptococcus pyogenes, which causes strep throat.1 Oral administration2 is also being developed, which may help with HIV immunization3, gluten sensitivity4, and prevention of other respiratory diseases.

Other Popular Microbes:

  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae (yeast), crucial for making bread, beer, and wine; might California consider nominating this microbe?
  • Corynebacterium glutamicum, assists in the production of the sweetener aspartame; a potential Florida state microbe?
  • Clostridium thermocellum, useful for the creation of ethanol and natural wood glue; perhaps a state microbe for Iowa?

1 Mannam, P., Jones, K., & Geller, B. (2004). Mucosal Vaccine Made from Live, Recombinant Lactococcus lactis Protects Mice against Pharyngeal Infection with Streptococcus pyogenes Infection and Immunity, 72 (6), 3444-3450 DOI: 10.1128/IAI.72.6.3444-3450.2004

2 Villena, J., Medina, M., Raya, R., & Alvarez, S. (2008). Oral immunization with recombinant Lactococcus lactis confers protection against respiratory pneumococcal infection Canadian Journal of Microbiology, 54 (10), 845-853 DOI: 10.1139/W08-077

3 Xin, K. (2003). Immunogenicity and protective efficacy of orally administered recombinant Lactococcus lactis expressing surface-bound HIV Env Blood, 102 (1), 223-228 DOI: 10.1182/blood-2003-01-0110

4 Huibregtse, I., Marietta, E., Rashtak, S., Koning, F., Rottiers, P., David, C., van Deventer, S., & Murray, J. (2009). Induction of Antigen-Specific Tolerance by Oral Administration of Lactococcus lactis Delivered Immunodominant DQ8-Restricted Gliadin Peptide in Sensitized Nonobese Diabetic Ab Dq8 Transgenic Mice The Journal of Immunology, 183 (4), 2390-2396 DOI: 10.4049/jimmunol.0802891