This microbial system, known as the microbiome, assists in breaking down food, protecting from harmful pathogens, and maintaining a healthy immune system.
Initially, studies into gut health suggested that bacteria operated in the gut by cooperating with other bacteria to produce the desired result. However, latest research is suggesting that it’s actually how the microbes compete with each other, which makes for good health.
Professor Kevin Foster, lead author of the study and researcher at the department of evolutionary biology at Oxford University, told the BBC that the microbes are like “trees competing in a jungle”.
“The assumption has always been that because these bacteria are doing us good, the communities must be cooperating with one another.
“What our work suggests, based on a wide-ranging mathematical analysis, is that competition may be key to a healthy gut,” he said.
The study was completed over three years and has been confirmed by a separate study in mice.
Similarly, the study found that if the bacteria was cooperating, it could be a sign that the body was “destabilised” and in poor health.
“Humans may have evolved to “act as ecosystem engineers that manipulate general, system-wide properties of their microbial communities to their benefit,” said Prof. Foster.
Professor Foster added: ‘The hypothesis we put forward is that hosts actively intervene to help maintain the stability created by the competitive environment.
‘One obvious way to do this is through the immune system suppressing overabundant bacteria, but another option is to keep different species of good bacteria apart so they don’t end up overly reliant on one another.’