In a recent Northwestern University article, a new study was found that despite human’s close genetic relationship to apes, the human gut microbiome is more closely related to that of “Old World” monkeys, such as baboons than to that of apes like chimpanzees. Another article posted by Medical News Today, provided more insight on why we should specifically take a deeper look into Old world monkeys, such as baboons, to tell us more about the human microbiome. Maria Cohut, the author of the article, claims that since these baboons are closer related to humans and share 99% of their DNA with humans, they will provide clues about the human gut microbiome.
The results also suggested that human ecology has had a stronger impact in shaping the human gut microbiome than genetic relationships. They also suggest the human gut microbiome may have unique characteristics, like an increased flexibility. In a quote by Katherine Amato, lead author of the study and assistant professor of anthropology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern, she explains that it is essential to understand what factors shaped the human gut microbiome over evolutionary time because it can help us understand how gut microbes may have influenced adaptation and evolution in our ancestors and how they interact with our biology and health today. She also adds that host ecology is what drives microbiome function and composition, since chimpanzees have different habitats, diets, and physiology than humans. In order to understand the human gut microbiome we must look at primates that are similar to humans since ecology is the, she also adds. Although chimpanzees are often assumed to be the best module for humans in many aspects, it is evident that this close relationship doesn’t apply when comes to analyzing the gut microbiome.
Going forward, Amato and her team are planning on exploring which qualities of the human gut microbial functions are shared with Old World monkeys and what impact they have on human biology and physiology. The results of this study demonstrate that the human gut microbiome diverges from closely genetically related apes and converges with “cercopithecines both taxonomically and functionally.” These findings provides deep insight on the evolution of microbiomes. More importantly, the results highlight the importance of human ecology and digestive physiology in shaping the gut microbiome. Intimately exploring the relationship between baboons, or other close human related mammals, could reveal more in-depth information about the human gut microbiome and how different factors of our environment affect it.