Everyone seems to have an opinion about which foods to eat or avoid, how to lose weight (and keep it off!), and which superfood to horde. But there’s a better place to search for health secrets than in a tropical berry: the human gut.Each person’s gut microbiome — the trillions of bacteria living inside the human gastrointestinal tract — is different. And individual strains of bacteria interact with food, drugs, vitamins, and toxins in their own way, which means no single diet, or drug, is right for everyone.Microbial chemist Emily Balskus recently discovered that certain bacteria eat the common Parkinson’s drug L-dopa and convert it to dopamine, which can dampen the effects of the treatment and cause painful or even life-threatening side-effects. In a new study published in eLife, she and her team took this discovery further, identifying how and why gut microbes metabolize dopamine. In the process, they discovered an entirely new class of enzymes (the tools bacteria use to perform complex chemistry) that degrade chemicals essential for neurological health, like dopamine, but also help digest foods like nuts, berries, and tea, releasing nutrients that may impact human health. Knowing how foods interact with microbial enzymes could, one day, help researchers identify the best diet for each human and their personal microbiome.There’s more: In animals, plants, and soil, the team discovered similar enzymes with powerful capabilities. Some produce cancer-fighting molecules, while others break down chemicals left over from industrial waste.“It ended up being a much larger journey,” said Vayu Maini Rekdal, first author on the paper and a Ph.D. candidate in the Molecules, Cells and Organisms program in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. “What we study in the human gut is very important for human health and disease and for understanding the interplay between microbes and the human body, but it can also highlight these broader themes that are relevant across ecosystems and across different microbial communities.”The study’s sweeping results came from one question: Why does a human gut microbe eat dopamine? After months analyzing how the bacteria Eggerthella lenta interacts with the neurotransmitter, Balskus and her team discovered the simple answer: Eating dopamine helps them grow. By modifying a catechol group in the molecule, the microbe gets a Darwinian boost. But the team learned something surprising, too: That enzyme specializes in processing dopamine.First author Vayu Maini Rekdal and Professor Emily Balskus have discovered a new class of bacterial enzymes that help humans gain health benefits from certain foods. Photo by MCB Graphics“That’s a really cool finding, because it suggests that this enzyme has evolved for the purpose of metabolizing dopamine,” a chemical typically associated with the brain, Maini Rekdal said. Intrigued, he and his lab mates decided to track down similar enzymes that also modify catechol groups. One group, he found, gives humans a health benefit, breaking down foods like pomegranate, chocolate, berries, and coffee to release polyphenols, which may protect against certain diseases and prolong life.These enzymes specialize, too. “Maybe one day I drink coffee, and the microbe recognizes a catechol from coffee, turns on the right enzyme and metabolizes that,” Maini Rekdal said. If he quits coffee, the bacteria might swap a coffee enzyme for a chocolate one. Enzyme upkeep requires energy, so defunct ones go in the trash. “This kind of tuning would allow them to grow on different things depending on what’s available.” Still, that means that without the right enzyme, some people can’t benefit from those health-promoting polyphenols.Last summer, Maini Rekdal planted dopamine and chemicals from coffee, tea, and chocolate in a variety of mammalian fecal samples to determine whether they share similar enzymes. They do: He found traces of the same chemistry in foxes, dogs, rats, alpaca, guinea pigs, pigs, and wolves. “Humans and wolves have very different lifestyles,” he said. That this enzyme is found across species indicates its widespread value for microbial life.The team even found analogous enzymes in soil microbes, where they perform chemistry for entirely different purposes. One produces a molecule that serves as a potent anti-cancer treatment; Maini Rekdal speculates bacteria make this molecule for chemical warfare — attacking enemy microbes. Another uses a similar enzyme to break down chemicals and clean up the surrounding soil, a tool that could be appropriated to rid land of toxic pollutants.The team identified many more related enzymes — in soil and the human gut — that fall under this new classification. But they don’t yet know what valuable or damaging purpose they serve. “Our study now sets the stage for further investigations of the chemical mechanisms and biological consequences of catechol dehydroxylation in the human body and beyond,” Balskus said.
Published on January 21, 2020 at 11:27 pm Contact Mitchell: [email protected] UPDATED: Jan. 23, 2020 at 2:18 p.m.Posing for a photograph near mid-court with her legs crossed and hands on her knee, Beth Mowins yelled through a smile.“You ever think you’d see this day?” Mowins asked Syracuse.com’s Donna Ditota, who sat a few rows up in the empty Carrier Dome stands.“Long time coming,” Ditota responded.Mowins was surrounded by the ACC Network’s broadcast team for SU’s Jan. 16 women’s basketball game against Georgia Tech. Color analyst Isis Young was to her right, producer Mackenzie Pearce to her left. Seventeen other women surrounded the trio, too.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“I remember when it was just me and Sue in the room,” Mowins said to Ditota.The 21 women laughed. But it wasn’t really a joke. The truth is the sports media industry has been dominated by men. Mowins and Sue Edson, Syracuse Athletics’ chief communications officer, were the only women in their 1989 sports broadcasting class at Newhouse, Edson said. A 2015 SAGE journal report found that 95% of analyzed sports-news shows had male anchors. In 2017, Mowins became the first female announcer to call an NFL game since 1987, and the first to ever call a nationally televised game.“I’ve always kind of felt comfortable in situations where you may have been the only woman in the room,” Mowins said. “That’s okay. That’s just kind of the way that I’ve always lived my life.”But last Thursday, that all flipped. For the first time in the ACC Network’s three-year history, a broadcast — from producer to director to pregame, halftime and postgame show — would be led by women in every lead position. It may have been a first, but Olivia Stomski, director of the Newhouse Sports Media Center, hopes one day an all-women’s broadcast wouldn’t be an ordeal at all – no need for press conferences, photo ops and media releases.Roshan Fernandez | Asst. Digital Editor“I want it to be normal that both male and female students are used to having women in these powerful positions and are used to having women call the shots,” Stomski said.• • •With an hour before tipoff, Young and Mowins sat behind their desk at center court. While Young scribbled into a notepad, bouncing to the Carrier Dome’s music — “Dior” by Pop Smoke — Mowins reviewed her pink-and-yellow highlighted cue cards and the Syracuse–Georgia Tech stat sheet.When Edson, producer Kristin Hennessey and senior producer Scott Hecht were discussing the upcoming ACC Network broadcasts in late December, they realized the Jan. 16 broadcast was shaping up to be led by a staff of women. Everyone was doing jobs they’d done before. They simply took the opportunity to “blow it out of the water,” Hennessey said, bringing in Young and Mowins and completing the all-female leading crew.Mowins, the 2015 Marty Glickman Award for Leadership in Sports Media recipient, and Young had met several times before the Georgia Tech game but had never shared a booth. After the 2017 espnW: Women + Sports Summit panel, Young rushed up to Mowins, the first to talk to her, and asked “just about everything,” Young said. Throughout her career, Mowins has embraced the role of mentor for young women trying to get into sports media. She understands the importance of seeing people that look like themselves in leadership roles and positions of power, she said.“I think there are millions of young women out there — Isis is one of them — that have dreams that are way bigger than mine,” Mowins said.With 12 minutes to tipoff, Syracuse Director of Athletics John Wildhack walked across the court, leaned over the desk and monitors and reached out his hand to shake Mowins’.“Thanks for doing this,” Wildhack said.Thanks for calling the game? Mowins had done that before. She’s called NFL, World Cup, college football and college basketball games. Wildhack’s thank you was for more.If somebody’s got to be the one to kind of walk through the door and hold it open andhopefully encourage other people to dream whatever dreams they have, thenthat’s great.- Beth Mowins“If somebody’s got to be the one to kind of walk through the door and hold it open and hopefully encourage other people to dream whatever dreams they have,” Mowins said, “then that’s great.”• • •A few minutes into the second quarter, with the Orange down 18-15, Syracuse’s cheerleading team jogged out to center court during a TV timeout. Hoisted on to each other’s shoulders, they led the crowd in a chant.“Let’s go, Orange!” *CLAP-CLAP-CLAP CLAP CLAP*Under the courtside desk, Mowins clapped along. “Let’s go Orange,” she mouthed under her breath. *CLAP-CLAP-CLAP CLAP CLAP*Both Mowins and Young graduated from Newhouse – Mowins as a graduate student in 1990 and Young, with both an undergraduate and graduate degree, in 2019 after playing basketball for the Orange. Sixteen of the 20 women involved in Thursday’s production went or go to Syracuse, Hennessey said. Because of Newhouse and the Dick Clark Studios, Syracuse is uniquely positioned to produce events like Thursday night’s. It’s the only school in the ACC that regularly uses students as on-air talent and the only school that cuts to a student-run studio for halftime, said Hennessey.“There’s just so much history here,” Mowins said of SU and Newhouse. “It’s really cool to be number one, and to be a part of something that you know is a special place and somewhat of a mecca that other people aspire to be a part of.”At halftime, Mowins and Young kept their headsets on, watching the studio show being shot back at Dick Clark Studios on their monitors. Junior Jenna Fink and senior Nicole Weaving brought in graduate student Michelle Knezovic to present a story on Amaya Finklea-Guity’s love of drawing and painting.In the adjacent control room three SU students, including director Maria Trivelpiece, directed and produced the pregame, halftime and postgame shows.Mitchell Bannon | Asst. Sports EditorWith three minutes remaining in the game and the Orange down 79-63, the postgame show crew returned to their positions.“Walk them through what they’re doing,” Stomski said to the team.Fink and Weaving discussed the Orange’s upcoming schedule from their studio desk while producer Mackenzie Pearce counted down the remaining seconds into their ears: Thirty, then 20, then 10. “I’m going to drop this on you,” a voice from the control room said.As Pearce finished her countdown, a photo of all the women involved in Thursday’s production flashed onto the screen, panning out from Mowins and Young, revealing all 20 women.“When we were sitting at the Dome I said that’s the shot we’re going to end with,” Hennessey said. “I was kind of joking … but I thought it was fitting to end with that.”As the screen closed to black the control room applauded. Everyone started to file out of the room. Maybe not together, but they will do it all again soon.CLARIFICATION: In a previous version of this post, it wasn’t specified that Isis Young completed undergraduate and graduate school at SU. Comments Facebook Twitter Google+