Fatal Levels Of Radiation Exposure Can Be Offset By Specific Gut Bacteria, Creating ‘Elite Survivors’

A gloved hand holds a petri dish.
Adrian Lange / Unsplash

A new study published in Science has claimed that specific gut bacteria can potentially offset fatal levels of radiation exposure. The discovery is the latest in a string of studies that have suggested the microbiome has an incredible effect on health.

Accidental exposure, cancer radiotherapy, and targeted radiation attacks have made headlines over the years for their gruesome effects on the human body, including illness and death. In particular, accidental exposure has claimed the imagination of much of the public after the tragedy of Chernobyl in 1986. However, the most common reason behind radio-exposure remains cancer-related treatments.

“Substantial federal efforts have been made to mitigate acute radiation symptoms — however, it remains a long-standing and unresolved problem,” said corresponding author Jenny P.Y. Ting, Ph.D., William Rand Kenan Professor of Genetics in the UNC School of Medicine and a UNC Lineberger immunology program co-leader, per Science Daily.

“Granulocyte-colony stimulating factor is the only drug that has been approved by the FDA as an effective countermeasure for high-dose radiation exposure, but it is expensive and has potential adverse side-effects,” said Ting.

“However, bacteria that we can cultivate, and especially metabolites that are relatively inexpensive and already elements in the food we eat, may be a good alternative.”

The research demonstrated that two common bacteria that can be purchased as health supplements in numerous countries led to an increased production of small molecules known as propionate and tryptophan in mice that were exposed to fatal levels of radiation. The two molecules not only provided protection from radiation but also enhanced the recovery of blood cell production and the repair of the gastrointestinal tract.

The authors behind the research called those with the diverse microbiome “elite survivors.”

Tourists visit the abandoned city of Pripyat, inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
Tourists visit the abandoned city of Pripyat, inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Brendan Hoffman / Getty Images

It is not yet known whether the results will translate to humans, but scientists remain optimistic. A follow-up study where the bacteria were studied in human patients appeared to show striking correlations with the mice.

“Our work produced a comprehensive dataset of bacteria and metabolites that can serve as a powerful resource to identify actionable therapeutic targets in future microbiome studies,” concluded first study author Hao Guo, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in Ting’s lab.

In other health=related news, the Geological Society of America recently announced its new mission in tackling the Per-/poly-fluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, crisis. As was previously covered by The Inquisitr, the common chemical is deemed 140 times more toxic than arsenic yet is present in a number of everyday items, including car wax and even fast-food wrappers.