Gut bacteria can drive colon cancer development

Bacteria from the Odoribacter family, such as Odoribacter splanchnicus in this scanning electron microscope image, have been connected with the development of colon cancer.

Gökeret al/SIGS 2011

Gut microbes may reveal who is at risk for colon cancer, a study in mice suggests.

Scientists knew that people with colon cancer had different gut microbes than healthy individuals. But it was unclear whether the microbes changed in response to cancer or whether the bacteria drove the tumor development.

In the new study, researchers transferred gut microbes from a mouse with colon tumors into bacteria-free mice. Those mice developed twice as many tumors as mice that received healthy gut microbes. In the mice that received the cancer-linked microbes as well as an antibiotic, smaller tumors grew.

The findings suggest that intestinal microbes can fuel cancer growth in the colon, the team reports November 5 in mBio. Targeted changes to the bacteria in the gut may help prevent colon cancer, the authors say.

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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