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article imageAre our gut bacteria swapped when we snuggle up?

By Tim Sandle     Mar 22, 2015 in Science
Paris - The microorganisms that reside in the guts influence a number of health outcomes. There are variations between people. One source of the variation might be the extent of “personal relationships”, according to a new study.
The bacteria that reside within the intestines are aid digestion and affect health outcomes, and are perhaps related to conditions like obesity and immune diseases.
The factors that shape our microbial load (which is part of the human microbiome: a collection of microorganisms and their genetic elements within a particular niche) include genetics, breastfeeding, food, and environment. New research suggests that relationships also affect our intestinal composition.
To arrive that this conclusion, scientists have been examining the social interactions, eating habits and bacteria in the feces of two sets of wild baboons in the vicinity of Mount Kilimanjaro in Kenya.
Feces, in particular, is a rich source of information about health and disease. This is because it is largely made up of bacteria that were previously residing in the gut. From genetic analysis and molecular microbial identification of the collected poop samples, deposited by some 48 baboons, the researchers created a profile of some 1000 different bacterial species.
One key finding was that the baboons from the two troops had similar microbial profiles to each other; whereas the profiles of the two troops, when considered collectively, were more different. This means that an element of “swapping” had probably been going on.
Further analysis showed that even greater similarity occurred with baboons who groomed each other and eat food from the same eating area. Grooming involves pulling out parasites, dirt and skin. Often the baboon carrying out the grooming will put the detritus into their mouths. Another factor is huddling and cuddling.
Whether similar effects account for humans living together – the act of grooming aside – will be a matter for further research. if similar results are found, then it would seem that social relationships affect health.
The study was carried out by scientists based at the University of Notre Dame. The research findings have been published in the journal eLife. The research paper is headed “Social networks predict gut microbiome composition in wild baboons.”
More about microbiome, Bacteria, Baboons, Intestines
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