News Release

New research questions role of gut parasite in intestinal diseases such as IBS

Peer-Reviewed Publication

University of Kent

New University of Kent-led research on the way a common gut parasite behaves could help lead to a better understanding of its role in the development of intestinal diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome.

A team at the University of Kent, working with researchers from other universities, found that the microbe Blastocystis, commonly found in the guts of both humans and animals, can survive under conditions previously thought impossible.

Dr Anastasios Tsaousis and Dr Campbell Gourlay discovered that, contrary to what had previously been thought, Blastocystis does not die when oxygen levels rise.

In a healthy gut, the oxygen concentration is normally extremely low. However, in people suffering from intestinal disease, the disease often leads to a gut imbalance, causing oxygen levels to increase.

If Blastocystis was a strict anaerobic organism - meaning it does not require oxygen for growth and may even die if it is present - it would be unlikely to survive such conditions. However, this was not the case, with the study results showing that Blastocystis cells consume oxygen via a unique enzyme.

Lead author Dr Tsaousis, Senior Lecturer in Molecular and Evolutionary Parasitology, said: 'The research has shown, contrary to previous thinking, that this microbe can deal with oxygen.

This could prove to be important in establishing its role in diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome that result in a microbial imbalance of the gut with increased oxygen concentrations.'


The paper entitled The Human Gut Colonizer Blastocystis Respires Using Complex II and Alternative Oxidase to Buffer Transient Oxygen Fluctuations in the Gut, (Anastasios Tsaousis, Campbell Gourlay, University of Kent; Karleigh Hamblin, Mark van der Giezen, University of Exeter; Catherine Elliott, Luke Young, Alicia Rosell-Hidalgo, Anthony Moore, University of Sussex) is published in the journal Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology. See:

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Notes to editor

Established in 1965, the University of Kent - the UK's European university - now has almost 20,000 students across campuses or study centres at Canterbury, Medway, Tonbridge, Brussels, Paris, Athens and Rome.

It has been ranked 22nd in the Guardian University Guide 2018 and in June 2017 was awarded a gold rating, the highest, in the UK Government's Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). In the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2015-16, it is in the top 10% of the world's leading universities for international outlook and 66th in its table of the most international universities in the world. The THE also ranked the University as 20th in its 'Table of Tables' 2016.

Kent is ranked 17th in the UK for research intensity (REF 2014). It has world-leading research in all subjects and 97% of its research is deemed by the REF to be of international quality. In the National Student Survey 2016, Kent achieved the fourth highest score for overall student satisfaction, out of all publicly funded, multi-faculty universities.

Along with the universities of East Anglia and Essex, Kent is a member of the Eastern Arc Research Consortium (

The University is worth £0.7 billion to the economy of the south east and supports more than 7,800 jobs in the region. Student off-campus spend contributes £293.3m and 2,532 full-time-equivalent jobs to those totals.

Kent has received two Queen's Anniversary prizes for Higher and Further Education.

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