Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Bacteria as pacemaker for the intestine


CAU research team discovers connection between microbiome and tissue contractions that are indispensable for healthy bowel functions

Spontaneous contractions of the digestive tract play an important role in almost all animals, and ensure healthy bowel functions. From simple invertebrates to humans, there are consistently similar patterns of movement, through which rhythmic contractions of the muscles facilitate the transport and mixing of the bowel contents.

Body contractions in Hydra are triggered by nerve cells (in green), while bacteria (rod-shaped cells in red) influence the underlying pacemaker activity.

Image: Christoph Giez, Dr. Alexander Klimovich

Hydra’s nerve cells (in green) generate electrical impulses that cause contractions of muscle fibers (shown in red) in the gastric cavity wall.

Image: Christoph Giez, Dr. Alexander Klimovich

These contractions, known as peristalsis, are essential for the digestive process. With various diseases of the digestive tract, such as severe inflammatory bowel diseases in humans, there are disruptions to the normal peristalsis.

To date, very little research has explored the factors underlying the control of these contractions. Now, for the first time, a research team from the Cell and Developmental Biology (Bosch AG) working group at the Zoological Institute at Kiel University (CAU) has been able to prove that the bacterial colonisation of the intestine plays an important role in controlling peristaltic functions.

The scientists published their results yesterday - derived from the example of freshwater polyps Hydra - in the latest issue of Scientific Reports.

The triggers for the normal spontaneous contractions of the muscle tissue are so-called pacemaker cells of the nervous system. In a specific rhythm and without any external stimulation, they emit electrical impulses, that ultimately reach the smooth muscles of the intestinal wall, and cause them to contract. Although the impulses as such occur by themselves, their frequency and intensity, however, are subject to external influences.

"The example of the simple freshwater polyp Hydra has shown us that the bacterial colonisation of the organism can affect the contractions of its digestive cavity. Most likely they do so by modulating the underlying pacemaker signals," said Professor Thomas Bosch, head of the study and spokesperson for the Collaborative Research Centre (CRC) 1182 "Origin and Function of Metaorganisms".

Unlike other more complex organisms, Hydra have no bowel in the true sense of the word. Their simple body cavity assumes, amongst other things, the function of a digestive tract; the surrounding tissue also exhibits the typical contractions associated with more highly-developed intestines.

To find out how peristalsis is regulated in the freshwater polyps, the researchers compared normal Hydra which had typical bacterial colonisation with those that had their microbiome completely removed with an antibiotic cocktail. In comparison, these organisms without bacterial colonisation - also referred to as germ-free polyps - exhibited a reduction in contractions by about half. At the same time, the rhythm of the movements became disrupted, and some of the breaks between the contractions were much longer. Thus, the absence of the typical microbiome in Hydra compromised the peristaltic movements in the body cavity.

In a further step, the scientists restored the specific bacterial colonisation in the germ-free organisms. Initially, they introduced each of the five most common bacterial species found in the Hydra microbiome individually back into the sterile polyps. It turned out that this individual bacterial colonisation has no appreciable effect on the frequency and timing of contractions. Only the joint re-introduction of the five main representatives of the microbiome led to a marked improvement in peristalsis, although even then, the pattern of contractions was not fully normalised. Interestingly, an extract produced from the colonising bacteria had a similarly positive influence.

From these observation the Kiel research team concluded that only the natural Hydra microbiome - characterised by a balance between the bacterial species present - can play an important pacemaker role in peristalsis. They discovered that, in this case, certain molecules secreted by the bacteria can intervene in the control mechanism of the pacemaker cells. As such, bacterial signals can have a decisive effect on the pattern of spontaneous peristaltic contractions. "We were able to demonstrate for the first time that in our simple model organism, the microbiome has an indispensable function in the frequency and timing of tissue contractions," emphasised Bosch.

In addition, the example of the evolutionarily ancient model organism Hydra shows us that the control of vital processes of multicellular organisms by their bacterial symbionts already originated very early in the evolution of life, continued Bosch. These ground-breaking results are especially promising for medical research: "The fundamental explanation of the cooperation between organism and microbiome in regulating peristalsis will in future help us to understand the emergence of severe diseases, which arise from disrupted movement of the intestine," summarised Bosch.

Original publication:
Andrea P. Murillo-Rincón, Alexander Klimovich, Eileen Pemöller, Jan Taubenheim, Benedikt Mortzfeld, René Augustin & Thomas C.G. Bosch (2017): “Spontaneous body contractions are modulated by the microbiome of Hydra”. Scientifc Reports, Published on 21.11.2017,

Photos are available to download:
Caption: The typical contraction pattern of the freshwater polyp Hydra: Contraction and relaxation of the same animal over the course of three minutes.
Animation: Andrea Murillo-Rincon, Dr. Alexander Klimovich
Caption: Body contractions in Hydra are triggered by nerve cells (in green), while bacteria (rod-shaped cells in red) influence the underlying pacemaker activity.
Image: Christoph Giez, Dr. Alexander Klimovich
Caption: Hydra’s nerve cells (in green) generate electrical impulses that cause contractions of muscle fibers (shown in red) in the gastric cavity wall.
Image: Christoph Giez, Dr. Alexander Klimovich

Prof. Thomas Bosch
Zoological Institute, Kiel University
Tel.: +49 (0)431-880-4170

More information:
Priority research area “Kiel Life Science”, Kiel University

Collaborative Research Centre (CRC) 1182 "Origin and Function of Metaorganisms", Kiel University:

Cell and Developmental Biology (Bosch AG) working group,
Zoological Institute, Kiel University:

Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
Press, Communication and Marketing, Dr Boris Pawlowski, Text: Christian Urban
Postal address: D-24098 Kiel, Germany, Telephone: +49 (0)431 880-2104, Fax: +49 (0)431 880-1355
E-mail:, Internet:, Twitter:
Facebook:, Instagram:

Dr. Boris Pawlowski | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Don't Give the Slightest Chance to Toxic Elements in Medicinal Products
23.03.2018 | Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB)

nachricht North and South Cooperation to Combat Tuberculosis
22.03.2018 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Space observation with radar to secure Germany's space infrastructure

Satellites in near-Earth orbit are at risk due to the steady increase in space debris. But their mission in the areas of telecommunications, navigation or weather forecasts is essential for society. Fraunhofer FHR therefore develops radar-based systems which allow the detection, tracking and cataloging of even the smallest particles of debris. Satellite operators who have access to our data are in a better position to plan evasive maneuvers and prevent destructive collisions. From April, 25-29 2018, Fraunhofer FHR and its partners will exhibit the complementary radar systems TIRA and GESTRA as well as the latest radar techniques for space observation across three stands at the ILA Berlin.

The "traffic situation" in space is very tense: the Earth is currently being orbited not only by countless satellites but also by a large volume of space...

Im Focus: Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein

An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.

The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

New solar solutions for sustainable buildings and cities

23.03.2018 | Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

For graphite pellets, just add elbow grease

23.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Unique communication strategy discovered in stem cell pathway controlling plant growth

23.03.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

Sharpening the X-ray view of the nanocosm

23.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>