Home » Nutrition and Wellness » Functional Medicine » Gut and Intestinal Health » Microbial Syntrophy and Gastrointestinal and Anti-inflammatory Benefits

The interaction between beneficial bacteria and the host is called symbiosis. Furthermore, symbiosis depends on multiple factors such as microbial diversity, nutritional intake, lifestyle factors, and age. Consequently, this interaction leads to an adequate immune response, protects the gut’s epithelial integrity, reduces inflammation, and prevents the entry of pathogens. However, this win-win situation needs a closer look into the syntropy between microbial strains. Microbial syntrophy reflects in a wide variety of gastrointestinal benefits that serve a crucial role in orthomolecular medicine. 


  • Means cross-feeding. It comes from the Greek etymology: syn meaning together and trophe referring to nourishment. In biology, syntrophy describes the phenomenon where one species lives off the products of another species.

Syntrophy promoted by Akkermansia municiphila.

Akkermansia municiphila is the only member of the species Verrucomicrobia, and it has the singular characteristic of degrading the host’s mucosa. Consequently, this characteristic has a pathological component, but studies categorize A. municiphila as a beneficial bacterial strain. Indeed, the syntrophy promoted by A. municiphila and other colonic microbiota promotes gastrointestinal benefits and improves epithelial function.

As a complex ecosystem, the gastrointestinal tract has evolved to preserve its function. This action has been possible by the interaction and evolution of colonizing bacteria and the ever-changing dietary habits that form part of the developmental environment of these bacterial strains. Furthermore, complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber are the principal substrate promoters of these bacterial species that colonize the mucosal layer of the intestine. 

Additionally, the mucus layer that covers the gut epithelial surface can be used as an endogenous prebiotic. This utilization can only be possible in the presence of A. municiphila, which transforms mucus into 1, 2-propanediol, propionate, and acetate. Furthermore, this mucosal utilization promotes the availability of glycans and acetate that are the substrate for butyrogenic bacteria.

Syntrophy as a metabolic network: Clinical applications.

The metabolic network results in beneficial bacteria growth, and it is made possible by A. municiphila phagocytic habits. Measuring the syntrophy was part of the objectives of a study performed by Belzer et al. 

This study measured the growth of certain bacterial species that produced butyrate in the mucosal layer in the presence of A. municiphila. Afterward, these results were compared to the bacterial growth or butyrate production in an environment without Akkermansia municiphila.

In the cocultures series, equal amounts of A. municiphila and butyrate producers were set up to test the production of acetate or sugars as a product of mucin degradation. 

Butyrate producers: Know your commensals.

Anaerostipes caccae

Eubacterium hallii

Faecalibacterium prausnitzi

This experiment resulted in bacterial growth of all three species, as well as butyrate production. The abundance of A. cacae increased 100-fold, and the maximum amount of butyrate was produced after eleven days of incubation.

Faecalibacterium prausnitzi in combination with A. municiphila resulted in increased production of butyrate after eight days of incubation. However, the growth of this bacterial species was slow.

Microbial metabolic networking or syntrophy is the endogenous prebiotic promoted by mucus degradation. Indeed, the microbial diversity and the different metabolic by-products create an ecosystem that supports growth and stability. In turn, this syntrophy reflects in an adequate immune response. – Ana Paola Rodriguez Arciniega, MS


Belzer, Clara et al. “Microbial Metabolic Networks at the Mucus Layer Lead to Diet-Independent Butyrate and Vitamin B12 Production by Intestinal Symbionts.” mBio vol. 8,5 e00770-17. 19 Sep. 2017, doi:10.1128/mBio.00770-17

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