New popcorn promotes growth of beneficial bacteria in our stomach

July 19th, 2022

LINCOLN, Neb. — Each of us walks around with trillions of microbes living in our gut. In past decades, scientists have started to understand how the properties of our personal microbiome impact our health. But the question of how to safely, effectively, and scalably influence our gut microbiomes has remained challenging. Today an article published by scientists from the Nebraska Food for Health Center explores a solution: naturally occurring genetic variation in the plants we already eat.

The study, published today in the leading journal Frontiers in Microbiology, focuses on popcorn. Corn is big business in the cornhusker state, and popcorn is no exception.  Americans eat more than 13 billion quarts a year; an average of about 40 quarts per person. But when it comes to the human gut microbiome, is all popcorn the same? Nate Korth, a Ph.D. student at the University of Nebraska, Food for Health Center set out to answer that question using new popcorn varieties developed by Prof. David Holding based on naturally occurring changes within a small number of genes that influence the amount and kind of protein in the popcorn kernels, referred to as quality protein popcorn. When Korth analyzed the effects of these new popcorn lines on the gut microbiomes of different human donors using the Nebraska Food for Health Center’s advanced screening technology, he found something unexpected: compared to the popcorn we eat today, human gut microbiomes fed the new popcorn varieties produced much more butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid shown to promote health in humans. Using DNA sequencing Korth also tracked how the composition of the human gut microbiomes changed in response to the type of popcorn they were fed. When human gut microbiomes were fed Holding’s popcorn, bacteria known to produce butyrate became more abundant compared to microbiomes fed regular popcorn.

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Story by Nebraska Food for Health Center via AgPR