Veillonella takes you to the Olympics!


Breaking down the microbiology world one bite at a time

Veillonella takes you to the Olympics!

What if your microbiome could help you run a marathon or even take you to the Olympics?! This is what Scheiman and co-authors investigated. Athlètes’ gut microbiomes are known to have differential abundances of certain microbes compared to non-athletes but the impact of such differences remain unknown. What if having more or less of these microorganisms makes you swim faster or jump higher?

Sorry to disappoint but this is not exactly how it works, or at least, we don’t know it yet. However, the team found that marathon runners had more Veillonella, a genus of bacteria naturally present in the gut, than non-runners. They decided to go further to see if there could be a causal effect linked to this increased abundance of Veillonella. How did Veillonella make a difference in athletes?

The team tested the potential benefits of Veillonella using mice as a model. They gave Veillonella to mice and made them run to determine if they could run more than non-treated mice (controls), and they did! They ran, on average, 13% longer than the control group… but would that hold for humans? 

The team then sequenced stool samples from human athletes (ultramarathon runners and Olympic trail rowers) and isolated some Veillonella strains from the athletes. Overall, they found an enriched pathway that degrades lactate, a product resulting from glucose degradation and formed during intense exercise. 

Back to the mice, they ran experiments to demonstrate that the lactate generated during exercise is likely accessible to the microbiome. That lactate is then used by Veillonella through the enriched lactate-degrading pathway to produce propionate. Propionate is a short-chain fatty acid that can improve athletic health by increasing the amount of energy spent at rest, lipid oxidation and oxygen consumption.

Simplified illustration of the degradation of glucose to lactate during exercise, followed by the lactate – propionate production pathway. Veillonella intervenes in the lactate – propionate pathway. Image created in Biorender by the author.

In the last experiment, the team tested whether increased propionate in the gut and circulatory system increased athletic performance. They injected propionate in mice and found that the propionate-treated mice ran longer than control mice.       

We are not yet at the stage of adding Veillonella in the human gut or injecting propionate into humans to make them run faster, but it’s amazing to realize the importance and power of the gut microbiome!

Illustration of a non-athletes’ gut microbiome vs an athletes’ gut microbiome enriched with Veillonella transforming lactate to propionate and increasing athletic performance. Image created in Biorender by the author.

Link to the original post: Scheiman, J., Luber, J.M., Chavkin, T.A. et al. Meta-omics analysis of elite athletes identifies a performance-enhancing microbe that functions via lactate metabolism. Nat Med 25, 1104–1109 (2019).

Featured image: Image created in Biorender by the author