The bewildering intricacies of the human microbiome, a captivating assemblage of microorganisms and viruses that inhabit our bodies, have once again taken center stage. Extensive studies have shown that the composition of a healthy microbiome is paramount for human well-being, unveiling its vital role in various aspects of our health.
New research has delved into the enigmatic connection between the gut microbiome and the aging process, shedding light on its significance. Notably, these studies have highlighted the presence of a healthy gut microbiome in centenarians, individuals who have reached the remarkable milestone of living beyond 100 years. Their gut microbiomes are enriched with bacteria that potentially foster healthy aging by thwarting infections and promoting gut equilibrium, thus unveiling a novel avenue for exploration.
While gut bacteria have long been recognized for their impact on overall health, fewer studies have delved into the realm of gut viruses, known as the “virome,” and their influence on human aging. Emerging evidence suggests that certain viruses, known as bacteriophages, can bind to gut bacteria and influence their behavior, potentially enhancing their metabolic functions.
Given that centenarians exhibit decreased susceptibility to age-related ailments and infections compared to younger individuals, unraveling the unique characteristics of their microbiomes could pave the way for strategies aimed at promoting healthy aging.
A recent study focused on comparing the gut viromes of Japanese centenarians with those of younger adults aged 18 and above, as well as older adults aged 60 and above. Astonishingly, the researchers discovered that centenarians possessed more diverse viromes than their younger counterparts, uncovering a hitherto unknown aspect of their microbiomes. The study, published in the esteemed scientific journal Nature, showcased these intriguing findings.
Dr. J. Wes Ulm, a distinguished bioinformatic scientific resource analyst and biomedical data specialist at the National Institutes of Health, who was not involved in the study, shared his insights with Medical News Today. He stated, “Remarkably, it was found that many of the centenarians actually had a much more effectively health-promoting microbiome and virome status than some younger subjects.” Dr. Ulm further emphasized that when this symbiotic relationship between the body and its microbiome is enhanced, the body’s ability to cleanse and rejuvenate itself is greatly amplified. He also alluded to ongoing studies that aim to delve deeper into the mechanisms driving these observations.
The importance of the gut microbiome cannot be understated. For this study, researchers collected stool samples from Japanese and Sardinian cohorts, encompassing 195 centenarians, 133 older adults, and 61 young adults. By employing a virome discovery approach, they identified a staggering 4,422 viruses, including 1,746 previously unknown viruses, within the samples.
Upon meticulous analysis, the researchers observed that centenarians exhibited greater diversity in their gut bacteria and viromes compared to their younger counterparts. Additionally, they possessed higher levels of both gut bacteria and viruses.
Dr. Joachim Johansen, the first author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, emphasized the significance of the findings. He noted, “We found great biological diversity in both bacteria and bacterial viruses in the centenarians. High microbial diversity is usually associated with a healthy gut microbiome. And we expect people with a healthy gut microbiome to be better protected against aging-related diseases.”
Interestingly, infants tend to have high levels of actively replicating viruses that later become dormant as they transition into adulthood. However, the researchers discovered that centenarians had higher levels of actively replicating viruses compared to younger adults, although not as abundant as infants.
The heightened activity and diversity of the virome within centenarian microbiomes, as highlighted by the researchers, contribute to an enhanced metabolic capacity in bacteria, which is linked to numerous health benefits. For instance, the researchers noted that higher sulfur metabolism, a trait observed in centenarians, is associated with increased protection against aerobic pathogens.