Gut bacteria may actually reveal a person’s true age

Picture Editor | Sukey Richardson

By: Jaskarn Garnett

Sub-edited: Zahida Khan and Jasmine Wing

Scientists studying the gut microbiome have found that the human gut has the potential to act as a biological clock that can determine a person’s age.

The human gut provides a home for trillions of microorganisms and their genetic information, occupying your intestinal tract. These microorganisms compromise of bacteria, yeast, viruses, fungi and protozoans co-exist with other humans cells in the lower intestine.

The gut microbiome is the collection of microorganisms within the gut. They aid digestion, immune function, brain health and metabolism. Affected by genetics and a whole combination of other factors (which include stress and the environment), our gut microbiome develops in the very early stages of our life.

But while it is safe to say that our gut microbiome plays a key role in our health, it remains a mystery what a healthy gut microbiome looks like.

Just recently, a paper has been published that suggests the bacteria inside the human gut may be an accurate ageing biomarker which can calculate a person’s age within a few years.

At the American biotechnology company, InSilico Medicine, a researcher Dr Alex Zhavoronkov and his team gathered and studied gut bacteria samples from 1165 healthy people from across the world. The age ranges were 20-39, 40-59, and 60-90 years old.The team then used an artificial intelligence technique known as machine learning to analyse the samples.

Machine learning is using algorithms to analyse gut bacteria. In the study by Dr Alex Zhavoronkov and his team, this was done to recognize 95 different bacteria species within the sample images (in addition to the age of the person that each sample came from). This was done for approximately 90% of the collected samples.

The final stage involved giving the system the remaining 10% of samples and ask it what age the person was for each sample based on its previous knowledge of the 90% of samples that it was familiar with. As a result, the system was able to predict a person’s biological age within a 4-year margin error.

An ageing biomarker is a characteristic that is both measured and evaluated as an indicator of normal bodily processes. It could give a person’s true biological age which may differ from their chronological age.

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