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Japanese Guts Are Made For Sushi 309

cremeglace writes "Americans don't have the guts for sushi. At least that's the implication of a new study, which finds that Japanese people harbor enzymes in their intestinal bacteria that help them digest seaweed, enzymes that North Americans lack. What's more, Japanese may have first acquired these enzymes by eating bacteria that thrive on seaweed in the open ocean."


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Japanese Guts Are Made For Sushi

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  • ... from my cold, dead digestive tract!

    • Bowel obstruction (Score:5, Interesting)

      by AlpineR ( 32307 ) <> on Thursday April 08, 2010 @03:47AM (#31772798) Homepage

      Speaking of cold, dead digestive tracts: A few years ago, I got terribly ill while on vacation. Loss of appetite, waves of tremendous abdominal cramps, and vomiting. My intestines had plugged up and it took some intervention to get them moving again.

      I put some of the blame on a sushi lunch I ate that day. I'd eaten sushi often before, but this restaurant used a lot more seaweed in the dishes than I was accustomed to. Even as I was eating, I had second thoughts about whether what I was putting into my mouth was actually edible. But I figured it seemed strange to me only because that Japanese restaurant was more authentic than the Americanized sushi places where I usually dined.

      Now I wonder whether that seaweed would be edible to Japanese guts, but truly was inedible to mine.

      • by voodoo cheesecake ( 1071228 ) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @04:16AM (#31772922)

        Some with weaker constitutions would flinch, but I'd give you a mod point if I had any at the moment. As an Alaska'n fisherman, let me tell you that North Pacific bull kelp will rip you up pretty good, but I mix mine with jelly fish for that extra zing! Prepare your bull kelp and brown snot looking jelly fish with vinegar and high voltage, about 30kV or so should do the trick - just enough to evaporate it within a minute. Any longer than that and it starts to get a funny after taste.. Once it has cooled, sprinkle it on smoked tuna or sockeye salmon. Wash it down with orange Jolt and Bacardi 151 - of course, you should only do this on shore at the local tavern. Feel free to experiment with other beverages suitable to your taste if you want to whimp out.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jim_v2000 ( 818799 )
        I doubt it. It's not in it has nothing to do with someone being Japanese. It boils down to people who eat more sushi have more of the related bacteria.
    • Enjoy yourself.


    • ... from my cold, dead digestive tract!

      You've seen the eel soup vid too?

  • Stomach cancer (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I wonder if that bacteria is (part of) the reason stomach cancer is a major killer in Japan. Lost a friend to it.

  • Implications (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    This doesn't seem evolutionary so much as it appears that they grew up eating the bacteria. If I'm wrong, would somebody please tell me where my thought process is hitting a disconnect?

    • by piojo ( 995934 )

      Enzymes aren't the same as gut bacteria--our body actually produces them. I've been told that whether a person produces a given enzyme (like lactase) partly depends on their habits (if they continue drinking milk throughout their lives), but I believe there's also a strong genetic component.

      • by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @06:07AM (#31773428) Journal

        But then it makes no sense to say they acquired it from bacteria.

        Genes don't transfer from bacteria to mammals. Genes transfer between bacteria, via exchange of plasmids. (Which is one reason why antibiotic resistance spreads so fast.) But your cells don't have the mechansims to acquire such a plasmid, and wouldn't know what to do with it. You don't even have the regulating proteins or the ribosome to deal with a _circular_ DNA strand, and one outside the nucleus at that.

        At this point someone will probably have the knee-jerk reaction to explain how viruses can account for horizontal gene transfer, 'cause they read that notion at some point and it sounded so smart. Not so fast. Viruses are quite specialized in what they attach to. They depend on very specific nucleotid sequences, which is why you can have a virus that attacks your upper respiratory tract, but can't affect your lungs, or viceversa. Viruses that prey on bacteria, the so called "phages", have very specialized capsids and mechanisms to inject themselves into a bacterium, and are even more specialized in what they can attach to. Which is why for example you can spray meat with a phage which destroys Lysteria, but won't destroy your intestinal flora. A virus that's suited to infect both a bacterium _and_ your gut lining and transfer genes from one to the other, is almost an impossibility, and at any rate to the best of my knowledge none was ever identified.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Sleepy ( 4551 )

          >Genes don't transfer from bacteria to mammals.

          I would not cling to that view too strongly - there's some circumstantial evidence that genes can be transfered between unrelated species. Don't ask me to explain it - it's not understood as yet. But as an example you could Google, some GMO genes are being found in plant and insect species and it looks like the result of an unknown transfer process. It may be that mutations are not entirely random, but can be based on exposure (such as diet).

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by jc42 ( 318812 )

          But then it makes no sense to say they acquired it from bacteria. Genes don't transfer from bacteria to mammals. Genes transfer between bacteria, via exchange of plasmids.

          It's more accurate to say that we don't know of gene transfer between bacteria and mammals (or eukaryotes in general). It may happen, but it's probably not common.

          But what the article is about is gene transfer between bacteria in the gut. This is something that's well understood in medical circles, but not in the general population. Our

    • I would say it's even less than growing up with. Who here remembers the story about gut bacteria in fat people being different and that it could process fat/carbs more efficiently (and extracting all the calorie value from it) and futhermore that the bacteria % could change in a span of 16 hours? []

      I assume some people eat probiotic yogurt for similiar reasons? I would think that if you eat more and more sushi/seaweed, you'll have more bacteria

    • Meh, more of their liking of it vs westerners of not liking it is more due to the addictive substance in the seaweed. It's in miso soup and green tea. It's name is glutamatic acid. Funny to see a Japanese person travel outside of Japan and have none of them above.
    • There are many similar cases to this, such as an African tribe that eats rotten neat as a delicacy. It is probably Lamarckian, not Darwninian, in origin. A mother transfers her ability to eat to her offspring in the womb and through breastfeeding. Over time, an ability to eat things like rotten meat can build up, but it would be hard for someone like us to walk in and build up that ability from scratch. Having bacteria in your intestines is not genetic, so that doesn't leave many alternatives.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bkr1_2k ( 237627 )

      Newborns don't have the enzymes (supposedly) to break down meat either, but we in the western world seem to do fine with that. I suspect this is more like you're thinking, a habitual thing that your body adapts to based on your other dietary intakes.

  • by Daetrin ( 576516 ) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @02:20AM (#31772386)
    I thought that everyone started out with pretty much zero gut bacteria and acquire them based on what they eat. (And sometimes people lose all their gut bacteria from various medical treatments and have to work to restore them.)

    So the japanese end up with the bacteria/enzymes do digest sushi because... they eat a lot of sushi. Presumably anyone else could develop a colony of such bacteria/enzymes by also eating a lot of sushi?

    That would mean the division isn't whether you're Japanese or American or something else. It's just whether or not you eat a lot of sushi.
    • Yes, it's like when you travel to another country. You could eat some of the local food and fall sick (maybe), but once your guts are accustomed to it, you'll get better at it. TFA is simply another story in which a group of scientists have confirmed things we already know by experience.
      • TFA is simply another story in which a group of scientists have confirmed things we already know by experience.

        Maybe I'm mistaken but, are you implying they shouldn't? That they should concentrate on studying the things we don't already know by experience?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by leenks ( 906881 )

        Isn't that basically what all scientific papers are though? Scientific method applied to hunches or experiences to confirm a behaviour?

        • Yes, but the surprising ones are generally more exciting than the unsurprising ones.

        • No, most scientific papers are the scientific method applied to hunches (well, theories) to test a behaviour. Most of the time, the test fails to contradict the theory. Occasionally, it demonstrates a flaw in the theory and then you get something interesting. Experimental results that disagree with the theory are the most exciting thing to happen in science. Experimental results that reinforce a theory are a pretty dull everyday occurrence.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by polar red ( 215081 )

      I tought we got some of our mothers' bacterial community during pregnancy. is there a biologist or doctor in the room ?

      • by Misanthrope ( 49269 ) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @02:37AM (#31772460)

        Some of your gut microflora and fauna comes from your mom during the birthing process, others from breastfeeding and some from what you eat on a regular basis. This is interesting because the genes are transferred supposedly from the bugs living on seaweed to the bugs living in your gut, letting the same species of gut bugs to develop an ability to digest seaweed better.

      • by Cylix ( 55374 ) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @02:38AM (#31772468) Homepage Journal

        I'm not a biologist nor in any sense of the word am I qualified to answer your question. However, I feel that I might be able to lend some perspective on that matter that might otherwise be useful in gaining a firmer level of comprehension on the issue at hand.

        Onto the question regarding the transfer of some of the bacteria from mother to child I'm almost certain that someone may be able to shed some light on this puzzle.

        As noted earlier, I'm almost nearly certain that I am in no way shape or form the person who could assist in this conundrum.

        Don't hesitate to ask should you require further assistance.

    • by Sapphon ( 214287 )

      ... the division isn't whether you're Japanese or American or something else. It's just whether or not you eat a lot of sushi.

      Or Japanese.

    • Not necessarily, different people attract different bacteria; just look at why people smell differently based on what bacteria they have growing on them.
      Similarly something in the Japanese gut could be encouraging the growth of this specific bacteria...
      Just speculation, article was lacking about causes.
    • by piojo ( 995934 )

      Don't enzymes need to be produced by the body? (I.e., they aren't alive and won't replicate just because we're feeding them.)

      On the other hand, maybe the body will start producing enzymes when they're needed, in some cases. Is there a microbiologist/nutritionist in the house?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Primarily the Mother - in cases of vaginal birth. Breastfeeding, touching, etc add more. The infant is pretty well colonized within 1-6 months.
      Wikipedia article on Gut Flora

  • Here's one American who loves sushi and sashimi. Except ikura (salmon eggs). Never cared for those. Seems like bait to me. The only other Japanese food I would not choose to eat again is natto. Of course, I don't think they're singling out Americans, just non-seaweed eaters in general.
  • North Americans? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Froeschle ( 943753 ) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @02:31AM (#31772440)
    What about North Americans of Japanese decent?
  • by ibsteve2u ( 1184603 ) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @02:35AM (#31772450)

    Well, I'll be; and here I thought my brief illness on an Okinawan beach resulted from my consuming budweiser and salty dogs all night and then passing out on the beach - and failing to wake up when the sun came up.

    It wasn't alcohol, heat stroke, or the incandescent sunburn - it was the seaweed from that piece of sushi I had the day before!

  • by ipquickly ( 1562169 ) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @02:36AM (#31772454) Homepage

    Is it not obvious that if you regularly eat a certain type of food, you will eventually have bacteria that thrive in your gut because of the regularity of what you eat?

    What would really surprise me is if they find that an American living in Japan and eating a 'local' diet would not acquire these bacteria.

    I'm sure by now I've acquired bacteria that help with the digestion of french fries and poutine.

    • I have been historically known in my house as the one who drinks more milk than the rest of the family combined, and yet after 21 years of my habits suddenly my gut decided to STOP producing the enzyme that digests milk products.
      So no, the results of this study are not obvious.
    • I seem to be digesting chocoolate extremely well lately...hmm.

    • by brusk ( 135896 )
      The FTA claims that the gut bacteria were producing an enzyme normally produced by aquatic organisms, which would mean that a gene was transferred into the gut bacteria, which then continued to produce them, perhaps being passed down from mothers to kid in utero. That's different from acquiring new microflora from your food, and would mean that eating a lot of seaweed, by itself, is unlikely to produce this result in an individual.
      • I think it's obvious that the bacteria are transferred after birth.

        The real story behind this article is the 'lateral gene transfer between strictly aquatic bacteria and human intestinal bacteria'.
        This article makes it seem like 'Japanese Guts Are Made For Sushi' is the story. But anyone who is exposed to these bacteria and has a 'sushi' diet will have these enzymes in their gut.

      • eating a lot of seaweed, by itself, is unlikely to produce this result in an individual.

        There was a story here a while ago which said you swap something like 50 species whenever you kiss someone, so here's your excuse to make out with a cute Japanese girl, provided she's cool with geeky gaijin.

        "You'll be helping to spread Japanese culture, on several levels..."

  • population sample (Score:5, Insightful)

    by networkzombie ( 921324 ) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @02:41AM (#31772480)
    Czjzek's team compared the microbial genomes of 13 Japanese people with those of 18 North Americans.
    If I used this many test subjects in my job I would get fired.
    • by brusk ( 135896 )
      That's why a lot of the initial "hmmm" results are disproven or modified when a larger sample group is tested. But negative findings are much less interesting so they don't make news.
    • by enoz ( 1181117 )

      Czjzek's team compared the microbial genomes of 13 Japanese people with those of 18 North Americans.

      Unless there is a scientific reason for not testing more people, a sample size of 31 sounds worse than a school project effort.

      Five of the Japanese subjects harbored the enzyme, but among the North Americans, "we didn't find a single one," says Czjzek

      Fixed "conclusion" should be: Americans, and almost 60% of Japanese, don't have guts for sushi.

    • by Thanshin ( 1188877 ) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @03:07AM (#31772622)

      Czjzek's team compared the microbial genomes of 13 Japanese people with those of 18 North Americans.

      If I used this many test subjects in my job I would get fired.

      They don't even let me use test subjects in my job. Even after assuring them that most won't die.

  • by mjwx ( 966435 )
    Different parts of the world evolved different strains of bacteria. Can I collect my research grant now.

    Vietnamese people who immigrate to Australia often have trouble with Australian food until they get used to it (I.E. develop the bacteria to help digest it). Each part of the would would have developed different bacteria in the digestive system.

    This is why, more often then not when one travels to SE Asia one's stool is more regular (about 1 hour after you eat) and rarely solid. YMMV of course, peopl
  • by ook_boo ( 1373633 ) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @02:56AM (#31772566)
    Yeah, 20 years ago there was similar pseudo-science published in Japan claiming that Americans were specially built to eat hamburgers.
  • Ammo for Racism (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eheien ( 94444 ) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @02:58AM (#31772574)

    Just what we need, more "Japanese are unique" idiocy to justify racism and discrimination in Japan. So far we've heard that "Japanese intestines are longer [], so Japanese can't eat foreign beef", "Japanese brains are unique [], so only Japanese people can speak the Japanese language." and so on, all of which are supported by pseudo-scientific studies such as this one.

    This sort of incomplete research just feeds the view of racial uniqueness (and superiority) among Japanese and justifies their racism and discrimination against others.

    • by outsider007 ( 115534 ) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @03:05AM (#31772608)

      This sort of incomplete research just feeds the view of racial uniqueness (and superiority) among Japanese and justifies their racism and discrimination against others.

      They can keep their ability to digest seaweed.
      I'll just try to get by on my > 4" weiner.

    • This sort of incomplete research just feeds the view of racial uniqueness (and superiority) among Japanese and justifies their racism and discrimination against others.

      I think if I was doing bogus research to prove my racial superiority I'd choose something like mental and physical superiority, not the ability to eat fucking seaweed.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by HungWeiLo ( 250320 )

        My hunch is that this is an economic strategy. Japan has a history of doing stuff like this before - this is not strictly an example about genetic superiority - but they have claimed that Japanese snow has a unique texture, and therefore only Japanese-manufactured skis are suitable for their ski resorts.

        A lot of seaweed gets exported from China and Korea. This may be to stem the import of foreign seaweed.

    • Huh, you'd think the fluency of the native born non Japanese (mostly Koreans I believe), would kind of kill the second theory. Unless of course the claim is gaijins can communicate in the language but they can't speak the language, or some equally bizzare hair splitting.
    • by Ogive17 ( 691899 )
      My girlfriend's aunt (who is a nurse in Japan) said that Japanese have a longer colon that evolved from their high fiber diets. Sounded logical to me (someone with no medical experience). They also have no issues eating beef or pork, they just don't eat it nearly as much as us Americans.

      On the other hand, I think Japanese taste buds have devolved... they will put anything in their mouth.

      From my experience in Japan, the 'natives' love it when I try and speak Japanese when communicating. I've never s
  • Idle? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Escaflowne ( 199760 )

    What a surprise, samzenpus posting an idle article on the main page under a heading such as Science or Your Rights Online so his articles get more views.

    Seriously, take a look at the articles you've posted today samzenpus and the sections you placed them in. All, but one of your stories are Idle and yet all of them appear on the main page.

    Thanks for bypassing my filters and cluttering up people's pages with your nonsense.

  • by linzeal ( 197905 ) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @03:07AM (#31772618) Homepage Journal
    Killer Whale guts are made for Japanese, story at 11.
  • babies (Score:4, Insightful)

    by thoughtsatthemoment ( 1687848 ) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @03:23AM (#31772700) Journal
    The study maybe valid if they can find the enzymes in Japanese babies. Otherwise it can be said that the Japanese have the enzymes because they eat lots of sushi.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Opyros ( 1153335 )
      One of them was a baby, according to this article []:

      For now, it's not clear how long these marine genes have been living inside the bowels of the Japanese. People might only gain the genes after eating lots and lots of sushi but Hehemann has some evidence that they could be passed down from parent to child. One of the people he studied was an unweaned baby girl, who had clearly never eaten a mouthful of sushi in her life. And yet, her gut bacteria had a porphyranase gene, just as her mother's did. We already

  • Ah! (Score:2, Insightful)

    So that's why nobody eats sushi outside of Japan!
  • by mattr ( 78516 ) <mattr@t e l e b> on Thursday April 08, 2010 @04:25AM (#31772966) Homepage Journal

    TFA is not clear whether non-Japanese really cannot break down seaweed at all.
    In Japan it is popular to buy yogurt with live culture, for example there is Meiji's LB51 (lacto bacillus 51) yogurt supposedly good for your gut.
    Might be cool if a yogurt with this organism is made.
    Of course if you could just eat non-sterile seaweed maybe it would make a culture for you in your gut.. anybody know about edible seaweeds that would have this?
    I've had seaweed salad and maybe that would have it.
    Also the American gut is supposedly longer does that balance not having the enzyme at all?

  • Nothing new really (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Nephrite ( 82592 )

    Let's recall that tribes that life off hunting have more lactose intolerant people that those that practice livestock breeding, that certain northern tribes of Chukchas and Eskimo doesn't have ensimes to get rid of alcohol so they become alcoholics easily and so on and so on.

  • really? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by malkien ( 1024487 )

    organisms adapt to local diet.
    film at 11.

  • by evilandi ( 2800 ) <> on Thursday April 08, 2010 @06:42AM (#31773584) Homepage

    I didn't realise that the appetite for sushi amongst the Sioux, Cherokee and other North Americans was quite such a concern.

    Or did they mean Europeans?

    If you're going to discuss genetic differences, you do need to be accurate.

    • by Ogive17 ( 691899 )
      I am a North American. I was born here, so were my parents and my grandparents. Most of my great-grandparents were also born here although one set did come over from Germany, so they were actually European.

      If you were going to be pedantic, maybe you should have suggested they use the term 'Caucasian'
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by evilandi ( 2800 )

        'Caucasian' includes the peoples of the Indian and Arabian subcontinents, as well as the European subcontinent.

        "I do not think it means what you think it means."

  • by magamiako1 ( 1026318 ) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @06:59AM (#31773672)
    The article states clearly that:

    Gene transfer from the living bacteria transferred into the Japanese people's genome that produces enzymes in the gut that make breaking down seaweed easier (i.e. they get more from it).

    They didn't say you couldn't eat seaweed and that it was bad for you if you don't have these enzymes, just that it's better for you if you do.
  • To tune your guts... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by AlecC ( 512609 )

    So Japanese people have a seaweed digesting bacterium in their guts. So sushi restaurants could offer visiting westerners a small culture of this bacterium, and they would be set up to digest the seaweed. Before you go "Ewww, bacteria!", this is just what is being offered commercially as "pro-biotic yogurt". You would probably need a top-up on every visit to Japan, because the bacterium would probably die out without a regular supply of seaweed.

  • I used to have a girlfriend who worked at a Sushi Bar & Japanese steak house back when I was in college, so she'd bring some home every once in a while. I've had all sorts, and can't remember a single issue. I think my favorites were barbecued eel, salmon (raw), tuna and also plum mint, but I can't seem to find that one anywhere.
  • Sample size (Score:3, Insightful)

    by crossmr ( 957846 ) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @09:02AM (#31774640) Journal

    Czjzek's team compared the microbial genomes of 13 Japanese people with those of 18 North Americans. Five of the Japanese subjects harbored the enzyme, but among the North Americans, "we didn't find a single one," says Czjzek, whose team reports its findings tomorrow in Nature.

    such a big sample size, how could they possibly be wrong..

  • it seems a lot more people these days eat sushi, or mention eating it, and that makes me wonder if it have become fashionable for some reason.

  • by Radical Moderate ( 563286 ) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @12:43PM (#31778106)
    Cue Nancy Sinatra in 5...4...3...2...1

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo.