Nowadays, the connection between nutrition and health is becoming increasingly apparent. Recent discoveries about gut microbiome show that its composition can affect the risk of multiple diseases development: from diabetes to cancer. The microbiome composition is unique for each individual. However, in all cases diet appears to be one of the key factors of the microbiome formation. This means that one can avoid many diseases by adjusting personal eating habits. Properly chosen diet can increase the abundance of bacteria species that can prevent the disease. Yet, in order to achieve a positive effect, it is necessary to clearly understand how diet is connected with microbiome balance and take into account the individual characteristics of microbiome.

In an attempt to solve these problems, the researchers assessed the diet of 248 volunteers, devised personal nutrition recommendations for them and compared their microbiome condition before the experiment and after two weeks of dieting. The microbiome condition was evaluated using a special test "OhmyGut". It helps identify hundreds of gut bacteria species and determine the proportion of their number through the analysis of microbiome genetic material: metagenome. Also, the scientists statistically evaluated the influence of a number of factors, including dietary habits, antibiotics, sex and age, at the microbiome.

Microbiome. Credit:
Microbiome. Credit:

The study showed that those who regularly consume a lot of fruits and vegetables initially had a more balanced microbiome. These products contain a lot of food fiber, thus stimulating the growth of inflammation suppressing gut bacteria and improving microbiome diversity in general. Although WHO recommends adults to intake at least 30 grams of food fiber daily, the diet of most people does not contain enough fruits and vegetables to ensure this norm. This often violates the optimal ratio of gut bacteria species. According to the study, the introduction of more food fiber in the diet quickly improves the microbiome balance.

"Usually these studies are conducted in clinical settings under strict control. We, on the contrary, did not keep track of how strictly volunteers followed their diet. The purpose of our work was to show that voluntary, even non-strict dieting rich in food fiber leads to positive changes just in two weeks", says Dmitry Alexeev, Microbiome Research Director at "Knomics", member of the Computer Technology Laboratory at ITMO University.

For Russia this study was the first gut microbiome research project, successfully implemented on the basis of crowdfunding. Each study participant paid for the necessary tests and in return received the individual data on their microbiome condition and personalized nutrition recommendation. According to scientists, the interest in the study was huge.

"In this study we followed the concept of citizen science. It implies active involvement of ordinary people in the research. For us it was a useful and positive experience. Just in 4 days the number of participants became three times higher than what we planned to collect over an entire month. We saw that it is possible to successfully carry out such a research in Russia, but it is crucial to provide thoughtful logistics and effective communication with participants. We need to explain what do we do and give the result right in time in a way that would be easy to comprehend for ordinary people," says Alexander Tyakht, member of the Computer Technologies Laboratory of ITMO University and Technology Director at “Knomics".

Further project development is aimed at expanding the scope of “OhmyGut” tests, for example, to develop nutrition recommendations for people recovering from cancer and other serious diseases. In addition, the researchers are planning to expand cooperation with the food and pharmaceutical companies to create useful products and effective probiotics. "Knomics" is currently engaged in the development and distribution of the tests for the design of personal nutrition recommendations based on microbiome analysis. Previously, such tests were submitted only in the European and US market, however the creation of a database for the Russian population allowed them to adapt to our country.