A new study revealed that a newly discovered protein protects the body from potential inflammation and fat accumulation by binding in the bacteria lurking in the intestine.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that the bacteria-binding protein works together with the inner colon mucus layer to prevent intestinal bacteria from infiltrating the protective wall and reaching the body's tissues, leading to inflammation or other illnesses.

"The hope is that eventually, we'll be able to administer this protein to improve protection against bacteria in patients with a defective barrier," said Joakim Bergström, a postdoctoral researcher at Sahlgrenska Academy and one of the authors of the study, in a press release.

About eight years ago, Bergström is part of the research group that discovered the protective mucus layer in the intestines that separates intestinal bacteria and the intestinal surface. This thick mucus is made of proteins (mucins) secreted by the goblet cells of the gastrointestinal tract. The layer acts as a protective barrier that prevents one to two kilos worth of intestinal bacteria from reaching different tissues of the body.

The present study showed that the protein ZG16 helps the thick mucus layer keep intestinal bacteria at bay by binding and clumping the bacteria together, keeping it at a safe distance from the intestinal mucosa.

In mouse models, the researchers observed that lesser levels of ZG16 makes the mucus layer more permeable to bacteria, making it possible for more bacteria to penetrate the intestinal mucosa and enter the body. Increased amount of intestinal bacteria passing through the protective barrier could harm different tissues in the body, resulting to low-grade inflammation. Additionally, increased rate of trespassing intestinal bacteria could lead increased abdominal fat accumulation in mice.

With their findings, the researchers hopes to gain better understanding of inflammatory bowel disease and possible origin of more general diseases, such as obesity and inflammation.