The science world has recently been abuzz with the results finding that an isolated American Indian group (the Yanomami) in the Venezuelan Amazon have the most diverse microbiome (microbial community) ever discovered in humans.About double those found in humans living in the U.S. The scientists suggest that our Western lifestyle with processed foods, antibiotic use, sanitation, use of antibacterials, Cesarean sections, bottle-feeding (instead of breastfeeding) all have reduced microbial diversity in humans living in developed countries such as the United States. It is currently thought that reduced diversity is linked to some chronic diseases and even some cancers.From Nature:
An isolated American Indian group in the Venezuelan Amazon hosts the most-diverse constellation of microbes ever discovered in humans, researchers reported on 17 April in Science Advances1.Surprisingly, the group's microbiome includes bacteria with genes that confer antibiotic resistance — even though its members, part of the Yanomami tribe, are not thought to have been exposed to the drugs.
But scientists still do not understand all the factors that determine the make-up of a person's microbiome. “We do know that food, environment and chemicals play the big roles,” says Sarkis Mazmanian, a microbiologist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. The wide adoption of antibiotics, rigorous hygiene and processed diets is thought to have have cut down the genetic diversity of microbiomes in the developed world.
This makes the microbiomes of individual Yanomami particularly interesting, Dominguez-Bello says. The researchers took oral, faecal and skin samples from 34 people in a small Yanomami community that was unknown to the Western world until 2008, when it was spotted by helicopter....When researchers analysed the microbial DNA in those samples, they found that the average Yanomami's microbiota had twice as many genes as that of the average US person. More surprisingly, the Yanomami microbiome was even more diverse than those reported for other indigenous groups in South America and in Africa.
From New Scientist: Is super-diverse Amazon microbiome something to strive for?
The Yanomami people in the Venezuelan rainforest have the most diverse population of gut microbes ever seen, far more varied than Western guts. Does it matter?
Hunter-gathering in the rainforests and mountains of northern Brazil and southern Venezuela, the Yanomami eat a high-fibre diet based largely on cassava. For thousands of years, some groups have lived without contact with the rest of the world and are thought to be some of the few remaining communities never to have been exposed to antibiotics, which can wipe out the microbes in your gut.Sequencing the genes in the faecal samples revealed that the Yanomami carried nearly double the diversity of microbial species in their intestines compared with people living in the US. They also had about 30 to 40 per cent more diversity than a less isolated group of Venezuelan hunter-gatherers that has largely maintained its traditional lifestyle but has occasionally used antibiotics and eaten processed foods.
"Our results suggest that Westernisation leads to the reduction of diversity, to different microbiota compositions," Maria Dominguez-Bello of the New York University School of Medicine, who led the research, told a teleconference on Wednesday. Her colleague Jose Clemente of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, said the results suggest that even minimal exposure to modern lifestyle practices such as using antibacterial soaps and cleansers, taking antibiotics and having Caesarean sections, which mean babies don't pass through their mother's birth canal and pick up her microbes, can result in a dramatic loss of microbial biodiversity.
So does a more diverse microbiome make for a healthier person? Possibly. Healthier people do seem to host a more diverse array of microbes but it's hard to know whether one causes the other. There is some evidence that losing certain microbial species is linked to some cancers, plus giving mice antibiotics can make them gain weight, so perhaps a good mix of microbes in your gut can keep you from piling on the pounds.
Walter doesn't recommend striving drastically to make the paltry Western gut look more Yanomamian. Poor sanitation is probably one factor contributing to the Papua New Guinean's high microbial diversity, but they have high levels of infectious diarrhoea as a result – not a situation that Western urbanised nations would want to return to.