The ‘right’ diet



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The ‘right’ diet - The Harvard Gazette

Discovery of entirely new class of enzymes could one day lead to bespoke diets, therapeutics

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.