Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Compared with apes, people's gut bacteria lack diversity, study finds


The microbes living in people's guts are much less diverse than those in humans' closest relatives, the African apes, an apparently long evolutionary trend that appears to be speeding up in more modern societies, with possible implications for human health, according to a new study.

Based on an analysis of how humans and three lineages of ape diverged from common ancestors, researchers determined that within the lineage that gave rise to modern humans, microbial diversity changed slowly and steadily for millions of years, but that rate of change has accelerated lately in humans from some parts of the world.

Chimpanzees are shown in Gombe Stream National Park.

Credit: Ian Gilby

People in nonindustrialized societies have gut microbiomes that are 60 percent different from those of chimpanzees. Meanwhile, those living in the U.S. have gut microbiomes that are 70 percent different from those of chimps.

"It took millions of years, since humans and chimpanzees split from a common ancestor, to become 60 percent different in these colonies living in our digestive systems," said Howard Ochman, professor of integrative biology at The University of Texas at Austin and co-author of the study. "On the other hand, in apparently only hundreds of years — and possibly a lot fewer — people in the United States lost a great deal of diversity in the bacteria living in their gut."

That rapid change might translate into negative health effects for Americans. Previous research has shown that compared with several populations, people living in the U.S. have the lowest diversity of gut microbes. Still other research has linked a lack of microbial diversity in human guts to various diseases such as asthma, colon cancer and autoimmune diseases.

The results of this latest study, carried out by researchers from The University of Texas at Austin, Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania and elsewhere, appear this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The lead author is Andrew Moeller, a visiting scholar at The University of Texas at Austin and a graduate student at Yale University.

One possible explanation for humans evolving to have less diversity in their gut microbiomes is that they shifted to a diet with more meat and fewer plants. Plants require complex communities of microbes to break them down, which is not as true for meat.

As for why Americans have experienced much more rapid changes in microbial diversity compared with people in less industrialized societies, some experts have suggested more time spent indoors, increased use of antibacterial soaps and cleaners, widespread use of antibiotics and high numbers of births by Cesarean section all may play a role. Antibiotics and antimicrobial cleaners can kill good bacteria along with the bad, and C-section deliveries prevent babies from receiving certain bacteria from the mother typically conferred during vaginal births.

"Declining diversity in the gut has been a trend for a long time," said Ochman. "It's tantalizing to think that the decrease in microbial diversity in humans is due only to modern medical practices and other lifestyle changes, but this research shows other factors over time also must have played a role."

The researchers analyzed the genetic makeup of bacteria in fecal samples from humans, chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas to draw their conclusions.

Moeller and Ochman's co-authors are Yingying Li at the University of Pennsylvania; Eitel Mpoudi-Ngole at the Institut de Recherches Médicales et d'Études des Plantes Médicinales, Prévention du Sida au Cameroun (Republic of Cameroon); Steve Ahuka-Mundeke at Institut National de Recherche Biomédicale (Democratic Republic of Congo) and the University of Montpellier (France); Elizabeth Lonsdorf at Franklin & Marshall College; Anne Pusey at Duke University; Martine Peeters at the University of Montpellier; and Beatrice Hahn at the University of Pennsylvania.

This work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, Agence Nationale de Recherche sur le Sida and the Jane Goodall Institute.

Download the paper "Rapid changes in the gut microbiome during human evolution" (PNAS, November 3,2014) at:

Marc Airhart | EurekAlert!
Further information:

Further reports about: Chimpanzees Montpellier apes bacteria births diseases diversity microbes microbial microbiomes societies

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht First time-lapse footage of cell activity during limb regeneration
25.10.2016 | eLife

nachricht Phenotype at the push of a button
25.10.2016 | Institut für Pflanzenbiochemie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

Fluorescent holography: Upending the world of biological imaging

25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Etching Microstructures with Lasers

25.10.2016 | Process Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>