Understanding Food fermentation
Consumption of fermented foods such as yogurt and pickles began centuries ago. Fermentation of food is a chemical process resulting in the breakdown of food by microorganisms such as bacteria and yeast. The widely accepted concept regarding bacteria being harmful to health doesn’t seem to apply in the case of fermented food. But how do we differentiate between the edible or non-edible bacterial fermented food? Humans have a natural ability that enables us to recognize and consume foods stored for long durations.
Research findings reveal the underlying physiology of lactic acid interaction with human cells
Recent findings from a study published in the science journal PLOS Genetics have revealed humans and their close relatives’ the great apes have a unique cellular component i.e. a receptor that can recognize specific byproducts of bacterial metabolism and thereby prompt the immune system to produce a reaction.
The study by Claudia Stäubert and her colleagues of the University of Leipzig recently published these findings regarding this innate human quality. Multiple researchers have proved the enormous health benefits of consuming yogurt, which possesses a unique bacteria-, the lactic acids bacteria which is behind the fermentation process that converts milk into yogurt. Although the health benefits of fermented food consumption have been known for a long time, the exact underlying physiology of these benefits at the molecular level is still not well understood.
All that may soon change as the researcher from the University of Leipzig have made a new finding regarding the interaction between lactic acid and human bodies. The researchers focused on the hydroxycarboxylic acid (HCA) receptors, which is a protein found on cell surfaces. Human and great apes possess three different types of HCA receptor while other animals possess only two of them. This 3rd HCA receptor was found to form a strong bond with D-phenyllactic acid, a metabolic byproduct of lactic acid bacteria. The formation of the bond made the immune system aware of the presence of lactic acid bacteria and thereby initiated an immune response cascade. According to the theoretical idea given by the researchers, this 3rd HCA receptor could have evolved in the common predecessor of human and great apes in order to enable them to consume fruits that had fallen on the ground and started the decay process.
The significance of the study results
Not only does the study reveal the underlying physiology that enables humans to consume outdated foods, but it also brings light into the evolutionary processes resulting from the interaction between humans and microorganisms. The findings could enable the discovery of new drugs that possess anti-inflammatory properties as this evolutionary addition of an HCA receptor could possibly have formed to take advantage of the health benefits of bacteria fermented food. However, this is just the first step to understand the detailed physiology and the true benefits of consuming fermented food and many more studies are essential to understand the full impact of the evolutionary step in human cell structure.
- Bacteria in fermented food signal the human immune system, explaining health benefits
- Fermented Foods as a Dietary Source of Live Organisms