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Managing malnutrition through microbiota

Published online 24 February 2016

Gut bacteria may counter the effects of malnutrition.

Sedeer El-Showk

Researchers have shown that the growth of infants suffering from malnutrition depends not only on their diet but also on their gut microbial community. 

To investigate the relationship between malnutrition and gut microbiota, an international team, led by Jeffrey Gordon of the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, Missouri, USA, introduced microbiota from healthy and malnourished Malawian children into recently weaned germ-free mice1

They observed a difference in how the mice grew when fed an incomplete diet designed to mimic the food consumed by Malawian children. Mice with microbiota from healthy children grew significantly more than those with microbiota from malnourished children, although they consumed the same amount of food. 

When mice with healthy and malnourished microbiota were housed together, the healthy microbiota invaded the mice with malnourished microbiota. Next, the team cultured several of the invasive bacteria and introduced them into mice with malnourished microbiota. This resulted in significant growth, showing that these species are able to promote growth in mice. 

These findings are only the first step. 

“We’re just beginning to understand the relationship between acute malnutrition in infants and the maturation of their microbiota. The question of stabilizing newly introduced bacteria in a complex microbiota is an active field of research,” says Bernard Henrissat of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz University, who participated in the research.


  1. Blanton, L. V. et al. Gut bacteria that prevent growth impairments transmitted by microbiota from malnourished children. Science (2016).