Just a short blurb regarding this new Nature Communications article regarding differences in the gut bacterial communities (microbiomes) of people living different lifestyles. In this study, microbiomes of people living in different ways, from the following groups: (1) the Matses, a remote hunter-gatherer population from the Peruvian Amazon; (2) Tunapuco, a traditional agricultural community from the Andean highlands; and (3) residents of Norman, Oklahoma, a typical US university community that serves as a comparative population following an urban-industrialized lifestyle.
What was found that, in support of prior work, the rural community microbiomes had greater richness (number of different organisms) than the microbiomes of people in the urban population sample. There were a variety of differences in the compositions of the microbiomes that meant it was possible to predict what group a person came from based solely on their gut microbiome. Perhaps even more interesting, though, is that the Matses people had strong signatures of variants of the bacterial genus Treponema that were present to a lesser extent in the Tunapuco people, and largely absent from the urban sample.
If you’ve heard of Treponema, you’ve probably heard of it in its context as a pathogen: species of this genus can cause different diseases, including syphilis. However, the Matses people sampled were perfectly healthy, and the signatures of Treponema found in them are more closely related to symbiotic gut bacteria in creatures such as termites than they are to the pathogenic species.
What are these newly discovered varieties of Treponema doing? Functional gene analysis between the microbiomes of the three groups of people showed differences in the abundances of some gut bacterial genes, associated with things like metabolism of carbohydrates. Might these bacteria belong to a long-lost group of “good” gut bacteria that a typical Western lifestyle has eradicated? It will be interesting to see if there is work following up this study to learn more about these bacteria.