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Chimpanzees and Gut Health: More Sociable, More Gut Diversity?

Jan 19, 2016 05:54 PM EST
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Chimpanzees
Chimpanzees have richer gut bacteria if they've interacted more with others than when they are mostly alone, according to a recent study by several universities. The scientists think there are findings for humans in this too.
(Photo : Flickr: Tambako the Jaguar)

Whether your best friend is "Pigpen" from PeanutsTM  and walks in a cloud of grime or not, you might be better off getting the "good microbes" from social interaction than sticking to yourself -- and chimpanzees certainly are, says a new study based on chimps' gut microbiomes.

The study, with co-authors from Duke University, University of Texas, University of Pennsylvania and the University of Minnesota, looked at wild chimps' gut microbe and social behavior changes in the course of eight years at Tanzania's Gombe National Park.

They learned that bacteria species numbers increased in the GI tract of a chimp when the animal is more sociable or has more interactions with others.

The study was done on chimpanzees, but the researchers wanted to gather information for humans from it as well. "The more diverse people's microbiomes are, the more resistant they seem to be to opportunistic infections," co-author Andrew Moeller at the University of California Berkeley said in a release.

In particular, the study looked at bacterial DNA in chimpanzee droppings between 2000 and 2008. The subjects were infants to seniors. Many of the bacterial species within the animals' guts are also commonly seen in humans, including Olsenella and Prevotella.

In the research, the scientists also combined the data on microbes with records from animals' eating habits each day and the time that they spent alone versus with other chimps.

"Chimpanzees tend to spend more time together during the wet season when food is more abundant," said coauthor Steffen Foerster at Duke University in the release. "During the dry season they spend more time alone."

For the chimpanzees, gut bacteria probably moved between animals during grooming, mating or other touch, or when the chimps step where others have pooped, noted co-author Anne Pusey at Duke in the release.

While further research should still be done regarding the effects of social interaction on humans' microbes, the study findings suggest that chimp social interactions are as important to microbial diversity as exposure from their mother in pregnancy and early life. The findings were published in the journal Science Advances.

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