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"We set out to find out about human genes that are implicated in the regulation of the gut microbiome, and we found some that are," said senior study author Ruth Ley, an associate professor in the department of microbiology at Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y.
For example, the researchers found a link between the LCT gene -- involved in making the enzyme that helps the body digest dairy products -- and a type of microorganism called Bifidobacterium, which is commonly used in probiotics.
"Based on our research, we identified more than a dozen microbes with known links to health that are heritable," Ley said. "These microorganisms are environmentally acquired, but the genome also plays a part -- by determining which microorganisms are more dominant than others."
Some of the other genes involved were related to diet preference, metabolism and immune defense, the researchers said.
The findings were published May 11 in the journal Cell Host & Microbe.
"The overall numbers in this study were still small for genome-wide association analysis, but they help validate some of the findings we've seen in smaller studies," Ley said in a journal news release.
"This type of study opens up many questions, but doesn't give us a lot of answers yet. It gives us lots of ideas to study," she added.
The American Society for Microbiology has an overview of the human microbiome.
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