May 22nd is the International Day for Biological Diversity
2008. This year’s
theme is ‘Biodiversity in
Agriculture‘. According to the Convention on
Biodiversity who are co-promoting the day’s festivities along with such
luminaries of food and nutrition as the FAO, modern food production is
responsible for both increasing and decreasing biodiversity. One of the things
the CBD is interested in is stabilising the balance, so we can benefit from
improved food (and fuel) production, whilst preserving species (the ‘genetic
treasures’) that could become the food ingredients and medicines of the future.
Agriculture is mostly concerned with efficient production of nutritious, safe
foodstuffs. To do this involves the promotion and prevention of growth of an
enormous number of different species, soil, plant and animal-based organisms of
various shapes and sizes – minimising the pests and pathogens while promoting
the useful and edible ones.
Biological diversity in food is a very diverse subject area indeed.
CAB Abstracts, having its roots in agriculture, is a huge resource for
information on all these food production relationships; it is also a fantastic
place to take an investigation into biological diversity a step further. Food
production, after all, doesn’t stop at the farm gate for most of us.
A few months ago, a couple of fellow Handpicked…bloggers and I attended a lecture on
nutrigenomics. The essence of Anne-Marie Minihane’s
discussion was how to make best
use of differences in our genetic make-up to best predict what sort of diets we
should be eating. So even eating the food that has been produced isn’t the end
of the biodiversity story.
The food-genome interaction doesn’t even stop at nutrigenomics. It is further
complicated by our own internal ecosystems, the intestinal microflora, as
highlighted earlier in the year at the Nutrigenomics 2008 meeting in Paris.
Every single one of us is home to more bacterial cells than we have human cells
in our body – and many of these get to the food we eat before our own bodies’
digestive processes do. Some of them are even responsible for producing
essential nutrients1. Others help protect us from disease. This symbiotic
relationship in neither uniform nor static. The intestinal microflora is a
delicately balanced yet dynamic ecosystem2. It is affected by the food we eat,
what medicines we take, our state of health and quite possibly many other
factors we just don’t know of yet.
Inoculated very early in life by our first contact with the outside world3,4,
notably the skin on our mother’s breast; and modulated by the complex cocktail
of nutrients and bioactive substances present in her milk5, followed by the
microorganisms ingested along with solid food6, the human intestinal microflora
can influence the state of our health from birth to death7–13. It seems that the
more we learn about our internal ecosystem, the more we realise we just don’t
know14. Recent evidence suggests that the more diverse and less purified our
diet is, the wider the diversity of the intestinal microflora.
It is surely well worth preserving our own intestinal biodiversity for future
References and further reading
1Cooke, G. et al. (2006). Newly identified vitamin K-producing bacteria isolated
from the neonatal faecal flora. Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease Vol.
18(3/4), pp. 133-138.
2Bambou, J.C. et al. (2006). The intestinal flora: the scales without the sword.
Journal de la Société de Biologie Vol. 200(2), pp. 113-120.
3Campeotto, F. et al.
(2007). Establishment of the microflora in neonates.
Gastoentérologie Clinique et Biologique Vol. 31(5), pp. 533-542
J. et al., (2006). Factors influencing the composition of the
intestinal microbiota in early infancy. Pediatrics Vol. 118(2), pp. 511-521.
5Softic, I and
Atic, N. (2007). Breastfeeding protects against infection.
Pedijatrija Danas Vol. 3(1), pp. 33-45.
6Magne, F. et al. (2006). A longitudinal study of infant faecal microbiota
during weaning. FEMS Microbiology Ecology Vol. 58(3), pp. 563-571.
(2006). Early bacterial colonisation of the intestine: why
it matters? Archives de Pédiatrie Vol. 13(12), pp. 1562-1534.
M.Q. and Walker, W.A. (2006). Bacterial colonization, probiotics,
probiotics and clinical disease. Journal of Pediatrics Vol. 149 (5, Supplement),
9Wang Mei et al., (2008). Reduced diversity in the early fecal microbiota of
infants with atopic eczema. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 2008,
Vol. 121, No. 1, pp. 129-134.
10Schrezenmeir, J. (2006). When intestinal barrier become floppy: influence of
intestinal microflora on acute infections. Aktuelle Ernährungsmedizin Vol.
31(S2), pp. S152-S155.
(2007). The intestinal flora and main reasons of its modification –
benefits of probiotics in prevention and therapy. Tejgazdaság Vol. 67(2), pp.
12Kalliomäki, M. et al. (2008). Early
differences in fecal microbiota composition may predict overweight. American
Journal of Clinical Nutrition Vol. 87(3), 534-538.
S.O. et al., (2008). Autoantibodies against
appetite-regulating peptide hormones and neuropeptide: putative modulation by
gut microflora. Nutrition Vol. 24(4), pp. 348-359.
14Leclerc, M. et al., (2007). Intestinal microbiota: a little known world.
Cahiers de Nutrition et de Diététique
Vol. 42, Special issue, pp. 2S22-2S27.