This is according to a press release by the institution published on Wednesday.
The research examined 176 healthy Japanese centenarians and found a common trait: a unique combination of intestinal bacteria and bacterial viruses.
"We are always eager to find out why some people live extremely long lives. Previous research has shown that the intestinal bacteria of old Japanese citizens produce brand new molecules that make them resistant to pathogenic - that is, disease-promoting - microorganisms. And if their intestines are better protected against infection, well, then that is probably one of the things that cause them to live longer than others," said Postdoc Joachim Johansen, who is first author of the new study.
The research indicates that specific viruses in the intestines can have a beneficial effect on the intestinal flora and thus on overall health and longevity.
"Our intestines contain billions of viruses living of and inside bacteria, and they could not care less about human cells; instead, they infect the bacterial cells. And seeing as there are hundreds of different types of bacteria in our intestines, there are also lots of bacterial viruses," said Associate Professor Simon Rasmussen, last author of the new study.
"We found great biological diversity in both bacteria and bacterial viruses in the centenarians. High microbial diversity is usually associated with a healthy gut microbiome. And we expect people with a healthy gut microbiome to be better protected against aging related diseases," says Joachim Johansen.
The researchers proceeded to use a new algorithm to map the intestinal bacteria and bacterial viruses of the centenarians.
"We want to understand the dynamics of the intestinal flora. How do the different kinds of bacteria and viruses interact? How can we engineer a microbiome that can help us live healthy, long lives? Are some bacteria better than others? Using the algorithm, we are able to describe the balance between viruses and bacteria," explained Rasmussen.
Now, the scientists are seeking to pinpoint exactly what the optimal balance of viruses and bacteria looks like for a healthy disease-free long life.
"We have learned that if a virus pays a bacterium a visit, it may actually strengthen the bacterium. The viruses we found in the healthy Japanese centenarians contained extra genes that could boost the bacteria. We learned that they were able to boost the transformation of specific molecules in the intestines, which might serve to stabilize the intestinal flora and counteract inflammation," explained Johansen.
"If you discover bacteria and viruses that have a positive effect on the human intestinal flora, the obvious next step is to find out whether only some or all of us have them. If we are able to get these bacteria and their viruses to move in with the people who do not have them, more people could benefit from them," added in the statement Rasmussen.
The study is published in Nature Microbiology.
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