With Isala, we found 121 women in whom this bacterium was dominant in their vagina. That is about 4% of all Isala women.
What does this bacterium look like?
Lactobacillus jensenii is a rather thin rod of 2 to 4 micrometres in size. That might tell you more if you recall that 1000 micrometres fit into one millimetre. This Lactobacillus species was named after the Danish microbiologist S. Orla-Jensen. The bacterium has a fairly small genome and seems to be well-adapted to life in the vagina, with less of a tendency to colonize many other places.
What does science already know about this bacterium?
Not that much. This Lactobacillus species is less common than some other, more well-known strains, which is why less research has been done on it until now. So far, the literature has mainly associated Lactobacillus crispatus with a healthy vagina, but at Isala, we suspect that Lactobacillus jensenii could actually be just as healthy. We are about to learn a lot more about this bacterium, especially because we were already able to extract many isolates from the pink swabs for further research.
We already know that this bacterium has a fairly small genome averaging about 1.6 million base pairs with more than 1500 genes. This means that this bacterium can produce more than 1500 different proteins.
What is this bacterium doing in my vagina?
This bacterium produces, among other things, lactic acid and therefore also ensures a low acidity in the vagina. In this way, Lactobacillus jensenii protects your vagina against infections or pathogenic bacteria and fungi. Lactobacillus jensenii also makes molecules that act as natural antibiotics or protect against fungal infections or inflammation.
This bacterium even seems to make a kind of natural soap that can protect against infections. But not all of these active molecules are well known yet. Unravelling those molecules is something that Isala’s team is happy to work on in the future.
It does seem that Lactobacillus jensenii can better protect your vagina in the presence of iron. Since iron is present in blood, we suspect that during your period, Lactobacillus jensenii will provide extra protection for your vagina. In addition, it also seems to have a good immune system for so-called bacteriophages, which are viruses that can make (healthy) bacteria sick.
There is still a lot to discover about this promising bacterium.
Does this bacterium occur elsewhere?
Yes! You probably don’t expect it, but Lactobacillus jensenii can also be found on the outside of grapes at the time of harvest. Therefore, this bacterium is also often used in the process of fermentation in wine production. Furthermore, in our own research, we already found them on the skin and in the nose of healthy test subjects.