Dr Yogesh S Shouche, Scientist G, National Centre for Cell Science (NCCS) and Principle Investigator,Microbial Culture Collection, Pune, was a part of the team that discovered gut bacteria Clostridium punens. In an interaction with Sachin Jagdale, he gives more information about the importance of this bacteria
Was the discovery of Clostridium punens accidental or pre-planned?
We had been looking at microbes in the human gut for the last several years and expecting to see a lot of novel organisms as this is an unexplored niche. So that way, this was not a totally unexpected finding. But when you isolate hundreds of organisms, you don’t know which one is going to be a novel. It is a chance and art to discover a novel organism.
Since when are you working on it? Who are the other scientists involved in this discovery?
We are working on this for almost a decade now and this is a team work involving many scientist and students. For example, Dr Sanjay Juvekar of KEM Research Center at Vadu helped us in indentifying human volunteers, Dr Dilip Ranande, Ex Director, ARI and Dr Om Prakash, MCC helped in the isolation of anaerobic organisms. Dr Dhiraj Dhotre of MCC is our bioinformatics expert. Several students like Vikram Lanjekar, Nachiket Marathe, Shreyas Kumbhare, Sudarshan Shetty, Somal Chodhury were part of this project. There are many others, but the ones mentioned are the major contributors.
Have your work been published in any international journal?
While describing a novel bacterium, it is mandatory that this observation is published in a scientific journal dedicated for this. All our observations are published in International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology. Without publishing in this journal, global scientific community does not accept your isolate as a novel organism.
What are the characteristics of this bacteria?
Our aim of doing these isolations is mainly to develop a repository of well characterised ‘friendly’ gut bacteria. These can in future be used for replenishing the gut microbiota of humans if it is disturbed by environmental factors like consumption of antibiotics, drugs or even wrong diet. So, we look for characteristics like help in digestion, production of vitamins, ability to compete and win over disease causing organisms etc.
How is Clostridium punens different from other bacteria?
Our gut harbours 10,000 different types of bacteria and they differ from each other in many ways, their metabolism, production of some compounds that regulate human metabolism etc. All this information can be inferred from the sequence of their DNA and thus their DNA is different from each other.
Does this discovery have any significance related to treatment of any particular disease?
We have so far reported only a few novel bacteria from human gut and it carries few thousand species. Many of them are bound to have beneficial effect on the treatment of diseases like obesity, diabetes and mental illness. While experimenting with animal, scientists have shown the beneficial effect of some bacteria in psychological disorders.
Which other places have this bacteria been discovered?
In India at least, ours is the only laboratory so far that has undertaken such exercise. There are few labs abroad involved in this type of work. In fact in the US and Europe, there are mega projects undertaken for the characterisation of microbiome.
Have you received any international offer for tie-ups for further research?
Yes, some laboratories in Spain, Germany and the US have shown interest in developing a collaboration with us. There were also some offers from MNCs to develop this research into product. But, we need to consider national interest before going ahead with these offers. Our natural resource belongs to us and the Indian population should get benefits from it.
How are you going to raise funds for your further research? Have you approached any pharma/ biotech company for the same?
All the research has been funded by the government, unfortunately, the trend of industries funding basic research considering long-term benefits had never caught up in India. They fund only specific short-term projects for product development. If we had funding from a major pharma company, we could have done much more and would have been at par with our western colleagues. So far, we have only one project on diabetes that is funded by Unilever. I wish more pharma companies should come forward to support such cutting-edge research.