Sunday, March 17, 2013
USA - Gut Microbes Could Influence Survival In Melamine Scandal
Scientists have discovered a clue as to why some children survived the melamine-contaminated milk scandal in China.
In 2008, nearly 300,000 Chinese children were hospitalized with kidney problems after ingesting powdered milk that had been deliberately contaminated with melamine. Six babies eventually died from kidney damage.
Melamine, rich in nitrogen and a component of a type of plastic, had been added to the powdered milk to boost the apparent protein content. Melamine was found to combine with uric acid in the children’s bodies to produce harmful kidney stones. However, why some children were more badly affected than others was a mystery.
In a study led by Prof. Wei Jia at the University of North Carolina in collaboration with scientists from Shanghai Jiao Tong University and Imperial College London, the scientists examined melamine-induced kidney stone formation in rats to understand the development of disease and the role that gut microbes could play in this process.
The team first fed rats antibiotics to kill off selected microbial populations in the gut, then fed the rats melamine. Rats treated with antibiotics had fewer kidney stones and were less affected by the melamine.
They were found to excrete double the amount of melamine than rats that did not receive antibiotic treatment.
Publishing their results in the journal Science Translational Medicine, the team report that certain species of gut microbes are responsible for converting melamine into cyanuric acid. This then accelerates the rate at which kidney stones are formed.
Microbes of the Klebsiella family tend to facilitate the process of melamine conversion, potentially making them key players in the formation of kidney stones. The scientists believe that the make-up of gut microbes in the poisoned animal or person affects the eventual outcome.
According to Prof. Nicholson from Imperial College London and co-author of the study:
“The metabolic activities of gut microbes strongly influence human health in profound ways and have been linked to the development of multiple medical problems ranging from autoimmune diseases, obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.”
“The specific implication of this research is that the expression of the kidney disease in the Chinese contaminated milk scandal is likely to have been mediated by gut bacteria in affected children. The more general implication is that gut microbial status affects the outcome to exposures to environmental and food contaminants.”
The article can be found at: Zheng X et al. (2013) Melamine-Induced Renal Toxicity Is Mediated by the Gut Microbiota.
Source: Imperial College London;