Take a trip to the Gut Bacteria Reef

28th June 2021 | Eativity editors

Two experts from seemingly unrelated fields – marine biology and medicine – have released a new research report which shows the surprising similarities between the ecosystems of the human gut and the Great Barrier Reef. Leading marine biologist from the College of Science and Engineering at James Cook University Townsville, Associate Professor David Bourne, has developed the pioneering “Gut Bacteria Reef” report. This was commissioned by Kellogg’s Australia in consultation with medical expert Dr Ginni Mansberg.

As it turns out, our bodies have a lot more in common with coral reefs than we might have thought. Both the gut and coral reefs are home to a staggering diversity of life that includes thousands of species of living organisms. A rise in the dominance of one or more of these species can upset the natural balance in either ecosystem.

Gut Bacteria Reef: the human gut has surprising similarities with the Great Barrier Reef
Because of their diversity of life, coral reefs are often called the “rainforests of the sea”.

Complex ecosystems

“There are thousands of species of fish, corals and bacteria living on the Great Barrier Reef,” explains Associate Professor Bourne. “Similarly, it’s estimated we have over 1000 types of bacteria living in our gut. Both are a complex collection of organisms that function together, each with its own purpose. When one species dominates the space, it can create imbalance. This can affect the overall health of the ecosystem.”

The two ecosystems are so similar, some people aren’t able to tell the difference between them. When presented with images of their gut – like the one at the top of this page – 26 percent of those surveyed thought it was an image of a coral reef. As many Australians don’t know that their gut is a living ecosystem, Kellogg’s has used this coral reef analogy and the report to create a world-first virtual reality experience. Enter the Gut Bacteria Reef.

The Gut Bacteria Reef allows viewers to explore the inner workings of the human gut
The Gut Bacteria Reef allows viewers to explore the inner workings of the human gut.

What you need for a healthy gut

“For overall gut health, we need to look after the species of bacteria that look after us,” Dr Mansberg says. “You don’t need pills and potions. Eating a healthy diet rich in fibre is where you should start. A high-fibre diet includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, fibre-rich cereals and whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. Probiotics like yoghurt are also beneficial, but you won’t be realising the full potential of probiotics without prebiotics like fibre.”

According to a study in the journal Nutrients, two thirds of Australians aren’t meeting their daily fibre requirements of 25-30g. But by showing Australians the invisible world inside their bodies and how fibre feeds “good” gut bacteria, it’s hoped this will build a better understanding of the link between a healthy diet and good gut health.

To experience the Gut Bacteria Reef, click here. For more on the importance of fibre in maintaining gut health, head to kelloggs.com.au