Is this the secret to living to 100? Scientists identify a specific mix of bacteria and viruses that could help us live longer
Humans may have finally discovered the secret to a long life, which is hidden in our guts.
Scientists from the University of Copenhagen studied 176 healthy Japanese centenarians – a rare population that reaches 100 or older – and found that they all had a mixture of bacteria and viruses in their gastrointestinal tracts (GI ).
The study showed that specific viruses in the gut can benefit the microbiome in the gut and, therefore, our health.
While it’s impossible to alter people’s genetic predispositions, the researchers believe they could alter someone’s gut biome to include the unique mix.
Scientists from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research at the University of Copenhagen studied 176 healthy Japanese centenarians – people who had reached the age of 100 – and used an algorithm to map their gut bacteria and bacterial viruses
Joachim Johansen, author of the study, said: ‘We are always eager to find out why some people live extremely long.
“Previous research has shown that the gut bacteria of old Japanese citizens produce entirely new molecules that make them resistant to pathogenic, i.e. disease-promoting, microorganisms.
“And if their intestines are better protected against infection, well, that’s probably one of the things that makes them live longer than other people.”
The team developed an algorithm to map the gut bacteria and bacterial viruses of centenarians.
These results were then compared to a group of adults between the ages of 18 and 60.
Mr Johansen said the team had found “great biological diversity in bacteria and bacterial viruses” in the centenarians.
He said: “High microbial diversity is generally associated with a healthy gut microbiome. And we expect people with a healthy gut microbiome to be better protected against age-related diseases.
He added that the information could be used to increase other people’s lifespans by engineering the microbiome at the optimal balance of viruses and bacteria to protect against disease.
Mr Johansen said: “We have learned that if a virus visits a bacterium it can actually make the bacterium stronger.
“The viruses we found in healthy Japanese centenarians contained additional genes that could stimulate bacteria.
“We learned that they were able to stimulate the transformation of specific molecules in the intestines, which could serve to stabilize the intestinal flora and fight inflammation.”
For example, the study paper states that centenarians displayed greater metabolic production of microbial hydrogen sulfide, which may “support mucosal integrity and resistance to pathobionts.”
Mucosal integrity refers to the resilience of the gastrointestinal tract, the pathway of the digestive system leading from the mouth to the anus.
Pathobionts are pathogens that originate in the gut.