All essential nutrients impact our health in one way or another but knowing just how the lack of a specific vitamin can leave you vulnerable is of critical importance. That’s the information researchers at Rice University discovered recently as they found vitamin B12 improves mitochondrial health and increases the ability to fight off an infection.
Scientists used roundworms to uncover a direct link between a lack of vitamin B12 and an increased risk of infection by two potentially deadly pathogens. Even though they are one of the Earth’s simplest animals, roundworms (C. elegans) share a unique characteristic with humans in that they cannot make vitamin B12 and must get it from their diet.
The study findings published in the journal PLOS Genetics showed how a diet deficient in vitamin B12 is harmful to the worms at a cellular level. It inhibited their ability to break down amino acids which caused a toxic buildup and damaged their mitochondrial health.
"We used C. elegans (roundworms) to study the effect of diet on a host and found that one kind of food was able to dramatically increase resistance to multiple stressors—like heat and free radicals—as well as to pathogens," said Rice biochemist and cancer researcher Natasha Kirienko.
The results surprised Kirienko and her team which first noticed the difference in experiments with P. aeruginosa, a disease-causing bacteria that impacts both worms and humans.
Labs such as the one at Rice use roundworms as a model organism to study the effects of disease, drugs, toxins and other processes that affect humans and animals. The worms are fed different strains of the human gut bacteria E. coli and it is that practice that first opened their eyes.
"We found that switching between E. coli strain OP50 and strain HT115 dramatically altered the worm's stress tolerance," Kirienko said.
Fellow researcher Alexey Revtovich said, "The key difference between the two diets is the ability of HT115 and OP50 to acquire B12 from the environment. We showed that HT115 is far more efficient at this, making about eight times as much of the protein that it needs to harvest B12 as compared to OP50."
Scientists were also able to see that roundworms on a HT115 diet also had the ability to resist infection by another deadly human pathogen, E. faecalis.
"Some labs use OP50 as their standard food, and others use HT115 or even another strain of E. coli," said study co-author Ryan Lee. "Our results show there are significant metabolic differences between these diets, and it's likely those differences could contribute to substantial uncertainty in research outcomes."