Exploring the role of gut bacteria in digestion

They congregate in the environments that suit them best; some prefer the dry, desert-like conditions of our forearms while others thrive in the Amazon-style humidity of our feet.

Though we are born without them, bacteria inhabit our body within seconds of our birth. They live in our mouths, around our eyes, in our digestive systems, under our arms and in the shoots of our hair.

Most are helpful or at least harmless. The three or so pounds of bacteria living in our gut - mostly in the large intestine - help us digest all manner of food.

It's these tiny stowaways that interest Andrzej Joachimiak and his team the most, in part because they can have a tremendous impact on human health.

Scientists know the bacteria inside our gut can influence our maturation, immune system development, metabolism and production of essential biocompounds.

Previous research shows that a number of diseases - including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease - are associated with changes in our gut bacteria or microbiota. Some have been linked to obesity.