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Scientists track the arms race in your gut

Gut bacteria
The mixture of bacteria shown in this photomicrograph contains five different species of the genus Bacteroides. (UW Medicine Photo / Mougous Lab / Kevin Cutler)

The balance of bacteria in your gut can make the difference between sickness and health — and now scientists report that different species of bacteria share immunity genes to protect themselves against each other’s toxins and maintain their balance of power.

In effect, closely related species of bacteria acquire each other’s defense systems to fend off threats from alien invaders.

The findings appear in a paper published today in the journal Nature. The senior authors are Joseph Mougous, a microbiology professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine; and Elhanan Borenstein, a former UW Medicine geneticist who now works at Tel Aviv University.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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