According to researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder, E. coli bacterium produces a compound that helps human cells absorb iron.
E. coli is infamous for its food newsworthiness as the main bacterium culprit in food poisoning cases, but according to a recently published article in the journal Cell, E. coli—the most prevalent bacterium within the human gut—actually plays positively with its host with its ability to help absorb iron, news which could help create a therapy for iron deficiency anemia.
The key is with just what strain of E. coli is within the human gut.
Some strains can cause illness, but most of the E. coli types—such as what is in our gut right now—are harmless.
Senior author Min Han, a professor in CU Boulder’s Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology and research associate Bin Qi, looked at the fact that the gut contains so much E. coli, suspecting it must have some sort of beneficial role, and decided to identify which compounds it produces and what it does for the human body.
Using a type of roundworm naturally rich in E. coli, they fed the worms a meal of E. coli genetically altered to lack the ability to produce a compound called enterobactin. The researchers found that these worms had low iron levels and grew slowly.
When the enterobactin compound was re-introduced to these worms, the iron levels increased, and its natural growth continued.
Scientists had previously known that E. coli produces enterobactin to gain iron for its own diet and propagation, but always thought it was taken from its host gut.
The new research shows that when it comes to E. coli, it can provide beneficial results for the human gut.