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Gut Diversity

While many microbiome studies, including the Human Microbiome Project, have focused on Westerners, a handful of researchers are beginning to examine the microbiomes of indigenous peoples following traditional diets. And they are finding some striking differences, Ed Yong writes at NOVA.

Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello, a microbiologist at New York University, has been studying the microbiomes of the Yanomami, hunter-gathers who live in the Amazon. She's found that the Yanomami have about two times the microbial diversity in the gut and on the skin that Americans who live in cities have, and that the microbiomes from the Yanomami contain microbes not seen at all in Western samples. In addition, Yong notes that the microbial communities are even different from those found in other rural populations.

Similarly, the University of Oklahoma's Cecil Lewis has been studying the microbiomes of separate group that also lives in the Amazon, the Matsés. While Lewis is in the process of publishing his results, he tells Yong that he's "seen something that’s very different to what we see from the other world populations we’ve seen so far.”

This peek into the microbiomes of indigenous peoples may influence what is considered a healthy microbiome and efforts to restore microbiomes to reduce disease risk, Yong adds.

"When it comes to chronic diseases that are part of our Western lifestyles, what is the baseline?" he says. "We do not know, because we have mostly studied Western microbiomes. We are like conservationists who are trying to restore a forest when they have only ever seen deserts."