My research team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology explores how microbes help keep us healthy. We’ve learned that our daily diet and habits dramatically influence our microbiomes. We’ve specifically studied aspects of wellness in mice (which often make good stand-ins for humans) that are influenced by diet and microbes, including healthy skin, a slender physique, and breeding success across generations. Several findings from our work make me think that microbes helping steer the evolution of humans isn’t such a far-fetched idea.
Oxytocin sometimes called the love hormone…promotes nerve growth, fosters creativity in the brain, and serves as glue for complex mammalian social networks that have been integral in evolving social organizations. When fed to mice, certain kinds of bacteria found in human breast milk elicit production of oxytocin in the brain and bloodstream.
Likewise, testosterone levels in mice soar after eating these bacteria.
It turns out that our minuscule microbial manipulators also boost levels of a transcription factor (a protein that helps turn the instructions of DNA into body-building proteins) called Forkhead Box N1.
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