The Center for Infection and Immunity (CII) at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health has found that microbiomes of wild gorillas and chimpanzees offers insights into the evolution of the human microbiome and might even have implications for human health.
Analysis of fecal samples were collected by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) from wild African great apes living the Sangha region of the Republic of Congo over the course of three years. Their goal was to understand the mix of gut microbes living in gorillas and chimpanzees
Microbiomes fluctuate with seasonal rainfall patterns and diet, switching markedly during the summer dry period when succulent fruits abound in their environment as opposed to their usual, more fiber-rich diet of leaves and bark.
These seasonal shifts in the microbiomes of gorillas and chimpanzees are similar to seasonal microbiome changes observed in the human Hadza huntergatherers from Tanzania, who also rely heavily on the seasonal availability of foods in their environment. Seasonal shifts in the microbiomes of human industrialized cultures, such as the United States, are likely less prevalent owing to reduced reliance on seasonally available foods and globalization of the food supply, as evident in any grocery store.
Brent L. Williams, PhD, assistant professor of Epidemiology at CII stated
“Bacteria that help gorillas break down fibrous plants are replaced once a year by another group of bacteria that feed on the mucous layer in their gut during the months they are eating fruits. The fact that our microbiomes are so different from our nearest living evolutionary relatives says something about how much we’ve changed our diets, consuming more protein and animal fat at the expense of fiber,” says Williams. “Many humans may be living in a constant state of fiber deficiency. Such a state may be promoting the growth of bacteria that degrade our protective mucous layer, which may have implications for intestinal inflammation, even colon cancer.”