A team at the University, working with researchers from other universities, found that the microbe Blastocystis, commonly found in the guts of both humans and animals, can survive under conditions previously thought impossible.
In a healthy gut, the oxygen concentration is normally extremely low. However, in people suffering from intestinal disease, the disease often leads to a gut imbalance, causing oxygen levels to increase.
If Blastocystis was a strict anaerobic organism – meaning it does not require oxygen for growth and may even die if it is present – it would be unlikely to survive such conditions. However, this was not the case, with the study results showing that Blastocystis cells consume oxygen via a unique enzyme.
Lead researcher Dr Tsaousis, Senior Lecturer in Molecular and Evolutionary Parasitology, said: ‘The research has shown, contrary to previous thinking, that this microbe can deal with oxygen. This could prove to be important in establishing its role in diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome that result in a microbial imbalance of the gut with increased oxygen concentrations.’
The paper entitled The Human Gut Colonizer Blastocystis Respires Using Complex II and Alternative Oxidase to Buffer Transient Oxygen Fluctuations in the Gut, (Anastasios Tsaousis, Campbell Gourlay, University of Kent; Karleigh Hamblin, Mark van der Giezen, University of Exeter; Catherine Elliott, Luke Young, Alicia Rosell-Hidalgo, Anthony Moore, University of Sussex) is published in the journal Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology.