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UMass researchers find food preservative affects gut microbiome

University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers say they’ve found that antimicrobial compounds that are added to preserve food during storage change the gut microbiome, underlining the need for more study of the additives’ effect.

“This is a very interesting phenomenon that we haven’t seen before, to our knowledge. We’re certainly interested in looking into it further. We do not know enough about what preservatives do to the microbiomes in the gut,” David Sela, a nutritional microbiologist at the university, said in a statement.

Sela and colleagues looked at the effect of one preservative compound, polylysine, in the guts of mice.

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The researchers said that the compound “temporarily perturbed the diversity of microbes in the mouse gut,” but over a 15-week study period, the mouse microbiome returned to conditions similar to the beginning of the study.

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Sela said in the statement that there is a “a critical scientific gap in understanding the potential interactions” of antimicrobial compounds with the many species of microbes in our intestines.

The human microbiome is the totality of all the microorganisms that live on and in humans. Bacteria outnumber human cells in the body, and most are found in the gastrointestinal tract, scientists say. In the 21st century, efforts have intensified to learn more about the microbiome and how it affects health.

Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.