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Man warming up cycling.

A particular array of gut bacteria, combined with a strenuous workout programme, helped men to improve their scores on health tests. Credit: Getty

Metabolism

Gym sessions feeling futile? It might be your microbiome

Gut bacteria partly determine whether exercise improves the health of men with pre-diabetes.

For some unfortunate humans, sweaty workouts don’t bring sweeping health benefits. Now research suggests a reason: a person’s unique microbiome influences their body’s response to exercise.

Aimin Xu at the University of Hong Kong and his colleagues studied 39 men with insulin resistance, a sluggish response to insulin that signals a heightened risk for diabetes. Twenty men took part in a 12-week exercise regimen, which improved insulin resistance and other health measures in 14 ‘responders’ but not in 6 ‘non-responders’.

Analysis showed that certain bacterial genes were more abundant in responders’ guts after the exercise programme than before it. One such gene helps to break down amino acids that promote insulin resistance. But in non-responders, a different set of genes became more abundant post-exercise — among them a gene implicated in breaking down substances that promote insulin sensitivity.

When the team transplanted the participants’ gut microbes into mice, blood-sugar levels dropped in animals that received post-exercise microbiomes from responders. But animals that received bacteria from non-responders showed no such improvement.

More Research Highlights...

Ember and thick smoke from bushfires reach Braemar Bay in New South Wales

Vast bush fires that swept across Australia at the end of 2019 and the start of 2020 filled the skies with enough smoke to warm a portion of the atmosphere. Credit: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty

Atmospheric science

Smoke from Australian fires turned up the heat in the southern sky

The catastrophic wildfires of late 2019 and early 2020 triggered a lingering temperature rise in a section of Earth’s lower atmosphere.
Visible and infrared images of the device in fully discharged and charged states

A display screen in its uncharged (top left) and charged (top right) state in visible light. The screen reflects one range of infrared wavelengths when uncharged (bottom left) and another range when charged (bottom right). Credit: M. S. Ergoktas et al./Nature Photon.

Optics and photonics

One screen, three images — some invisible in ordinary light

A graphene-based device can display several images simultaneously using a range of wavelengths.
Woman harvesting teff, Ethiopia

A farmer in Ethiopia harvests teff, a cereal. Small farms tend to have more-diverse landscapes than do sprawling industrial operations. Credit: Andia/Universal Images Group/Getty

Environmental sciences

Small farms outdo big ones on biodiversity — and crop yields

Large-scale farms account for most of the global food supply, but smallholdings protect species and are just as profitable.
Diagram of the nuclear composition and electron configuration of an atom of xenon-132.

A xenon atom’s electrons (grey circles; illustration) have been observed and even manipulated as they shifted their position. Credit: Carlos Clarivan/Science Photo Library

Atomic and molecular physics

An atom shuffles its electrons at ultrahigh speed — and is caught in the act

Scientists capture the movement of electrons in a xenon atom, a phenomenon that lasts for a fraction of one-billionth of a second.
A canal running alongside banks of earth.

An irrigation canal in the dry and intensively farmed San Joaquin Valley of California. Solar panels over such canals are more efficient than those on dry land. Credit: Citizens of the Planet/Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty

Renewable energy

Solar panels that throw shade on canals are an environmental win–win

Placing solar arrays over canals would prevent water loss and improve panels’ energy harvest.
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