Scientists from France recently announced in Nature that they had successfully cultured segmented filamentous bacteria (SFBs) for the first time. These bugs likely exist in the intestines of all mammals, including humans, and research has shown they may be amongst the most important commensal bacteria we have. Previous research has shown that the existence and abundance of SFBs is directly linked to the induction and recruitment of immunity cells, like T cells. The SFBs exist right on the mucosal boundary of the gut and appear to intimately interact with it. This close interaction allows the bacteria to use the gut to survive, but also to send molecular signals to the body.
The scientists were able to culture the bacteria by first culturing epithelial cells (i.e. the cells that line the gut) and then culturing the SFBs in close proximity. During their experimentation they discovered that the bacteria grew best when they were physically touching the epithelial cells, but that they could survive so long as they were close by. The scientists also discovered many of the important requirements for successful colonization and growth of SFBs, and we invite anyone interested in learning more to read the article.
While the results of this study may not sound very exciting to the lay-man, they are in fact significant. If these SFBs turn out to indeed be a critical component to mediating the immune system, being able to culture and perform experiments on them in the lab will be essential. Future studies could possibly identify the key molecules that are critical in signaling host immunity by the microbiome, and important compounds could be made into therapeutics.