Modern hunter-gatherers’ guts host distinct microbes

Hadza women dig for plant food, which makes their diet rich in fiber and influences the microbes in their gut. The bacteria of the hunter-gatherers' guts are substantially different from those of Westerners and even African farmers.

© MPI f. Evolutionary Anthropology

Tanzania’s Hadza hunter-gatherers have guts teeming with bacteria much more diverse than what’s found in Italians’ intestines. But the foragers don’t have Bifidobacterium, which is considered healthy, and do have more Treponema and other microbes that signal disease in Western populations. Hadza men and women even have major differences in their gut microbes.

These differences reinforce the idea that a healthy collection of gut bacteria depends on the environment in which people live and their lifestyle, researchers report April 15 in Nature Communications. The results also show how gut microbes may have helped human ancestors adapt during the Paleolithic period 2.6 million to 10,000 years ago.

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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