Dead guts spill history of extinct microbes

Dec 12, 2012
This shows microbiomes across time and populations. Credit: Tito RY, Knights D, Metcalf J, Obregon-Tito AJ, Cleeland L, et al. (2012) Insights from Characterizing Extinct Human Gut Microbiomes. PLoS ONE 7(12):e51146.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0051146

Extinct microbes in fecal samples from archaeological sites across the world resemble those found in present-day rural African communities more than they resemble the microbes found in the gut of cosmopolitan US adults, according to research published December 12 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Cecil Lewis and colleagues from the University of Oklahoma.

The researchers analyzed 1400-8000-year-old preserved at three archaeological sites: natural mummies from Caserones in northern Chile, and samples from Hinds Cave in the southern US and Rio Zape in northern Mexico. They also used samples from Otzi the Iceman and a soldier frozen on a glacier for nearly a century. They compared the now-extinct in these samples to microbes present in current-day soil and compost, as well as the microbes present in mouths, gut and skin of people in rural African communities and cosmopolitan US adults.

The authors discovered that the extinct human microbes from natural mummies closely resembled compost samples, while one sample from Mexico was found to match that from a rural African child. Overall, the extinct were more similar to those from present rural populations than those from cosmopolitan ones. The study concludes, "These results suggest that the modern cosmopolitan lifestyle resulted in a dramatic change to the human gut microbiome."

As Lewis explains, "It is becoming accepted that modern aseptic and antibiotic practices, are often beneficial but come with a price, such as compromising the natural development of our immune system through changing the relationship we had with microbes ancestrally. What is unclear is what that ancestral state looked like. This paper demonstrates that we can use ancient human to learn about these ancestral relationships, despite the challenges of subsequent events like degradation and contamination."

Explore further: Malaria transmission linked to mosquitoes' sexual biology

More information: Tito RY, Knights D, Metcalf J, Obregon-Tito AJ, Cleeland L, et al. (2012) Insights from Characterizing Extinct Human Gut Microbiomes. PLoS ONE 7(12):e51146.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0051146

Related Stories

You are not what you eat

Nov 16, 2010

The types of gut bacteria that populate the guts of primates depend on the species of the host as well as where the host lives and what they eat. A study led by Howard Ochman at Yale University examines the gut microbial ...

Breastfeeding is associated with a healthy infant gut

Apr 30, 2012

Early colonization of the gut by microbes in infants is critical for development of their intestinal tract and in immune development. A new study, published in BioMed Central's open access journal Genome Biology, shows that d ...

Recommended for you

Malaria transmission linked to mosquitoes' sexual biology

Feb 26, 2015

Sexual biology may be the key to uncovering why Anopheles mosquitoes are unique in their ability to transmit malaria to humans, according to researchers at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health and University of Per ...

Intermediary neuron acts as synaptic cloaking device

Feb 26, 2015

Neuroscientists believe that the connectome, a map of each and every connection between the millions of neurons in the brain, will provide a blueprint that will allow them to link brain anatomy to brain function. ...

Skeleton of cells controls cell multiplication

Feb 26, 2015

A research team from Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciencia (IGC; Portugal), led by Florence Janody, in collaboration with Nicolas Tapon from London Research Institute (LRI; UK), discovered that the cell's skeleton ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.