The domestication and industrialization of animals has affected intestinal microorganisms in related ways, likely through similar environmental changes
Domestication has a stable effect on animal microorganisms and is similar to the effects of industrialization in humans, with environmental differences such as diet having a strong effect.
These results, published today in eLifeIn this article, we highlight how the resilience of gut microorganisms can help animals respond to environmental change and can help define ways to engage with gut microbial communities in the service of health.
Animals typically have complex communities of microbes that live in their gut that can strongly influence functions such as immunity and metabolism. These societies can be very diverse and vary greatly between species and even individuals. We know, for example, that domestic animals, such as lab rats, have different gut microbial communities than their wild relatives. We’ve even seen major changes in the gut microbiota in industrialized human populations, some of which have been associated with an elevation of some diseases.
During domestication, the animals underwent profound environmental changes that may have formed their gut microbes. First author Aspen Rees, who was a junior fellow at the Postdoctoral Fellowship, explains: “It is possible that both domesticated animals and industrial populations have experienced similar environmental changes, such as less diversified diets, easier digestion, increased population density, and more medical interventions. “. Harvard University, United States, at the time of the study, and she is now an Assistant Professor at the University of California, San Diego, USA. “We wanted to see if domestication had consistent effects on the animal gut microbiota and whether the effects were indeed similar to the effects of industrialization in humans.”
To assess the effects of domestication, the team sequenced and compared microbial DNA extracted from fecal samples from 18 wild and domesticated mammal species. They found that domestication had a pronounced global effect on the gut microbiota, although the specific differences depended on the species.
Domestication involves strong selection pressure on animals, resulting in important genetic and physiological changes that may also affect microbial communities in the gut. To decipher the relative roles of ecology and genetics, the team then switched the diets of wild animals and domestic animals. They found that the intestinal microbial communities of related animals, such as wolves and dogs, became more similar to each other, supporting the idea that changing diets explain at least some of the changes in the gut microbiota seen with domestication.
To understand whether these differences also occurred in humans, they then compared the microbial communities in the gut with those in chimpanzees, one of our closest living relatives, and between humans who live in industrial versus non-industrial societies. They found that the differences between the gut microbiota of humans and chimpanzees were similar to those seen between domestic and wild animals, with the largest changes seen in industrial clusters. Since all humans are equally related to chimpanzees, these results showed that environmental factors rather than genetic factors drive aspects of the gut microbiota common to domestic animals and humans who live in industrial societies.
“Our research highlights that the resilience of microorganisms in the gut potentially helps animals and humans respond to rapid environmental change,” concluded senior author Rachel Carmudi, assistant professor in the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University. But, at the same time, this flexibility could create opportunities for mismatches between our gut microbiota and those our bodies have evolved to expect. As we increasingly appreciate the central role of gut microbes in biology, understanding the factors that shape them in animals and humans may help us identify new ways to improve experimental animal models, the well-being of the animals we depend on, and ultimately human health. ”
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