Most studies show gut microbiome in the body in the ever-changing rainforest of bacteria living in the intestine is mainly affected by lifestyle, including what is eaten or medicines. But a University of Notre Dame study has found a much more significant genetic component at play than was once known.
The study published in Science recently it was discovered by the researchers that most bacteria in the gut microbiome are heritable. They concluded after looking at more than 16,000 gut microbiome profiles collected over 14 years. The study was made on a long-studied population of baboons in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park. This heritability changes over time, with age, and across seasons. The team also found that many of the microbiome traits heritable in baboons are also heritable in humans.
According to Elizabeth Archie, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and a principal investigator on the study, “The environment plays a bigger role in shaping the microbiome than your genes, but what this study does is move us away from the idea that genes play a minimal role in the microbiome to the idea that genes play a pervasive, if small, role.”
The gut microbiome performs several jobs. It helps with good digestion, creates essential vitamins, and assists in training the immune system. This new search is 1st to show a definitive connection with heritability. Previous studies in humans on the gut microbiome showed only 5 to 13 per cent of microbes were heritable. But Archie and the research team said the low number resulted from a “snapshot” approach to studying the gut microbiome. All previous studies only measured microbiomes at one point in time.
The researcher used in their study from 585 wild Amboseli baboons used fecal samples, typically with more than 20 samples per animal. Microbiome profiles showed variations in the baboons’ diets between dry and wet seasons from the profile samples. Collected samples included detailed information about the host, including group-level diet and demography, social behavior, data on environmental conditions, known descendants.
The research team found that 97 per cent of microbiome traits including, the abundance of individual microbes and overall diversity, were significantly heritable. The percentage of heritability appears much lower when samples are tested from only a single point in time as done in humans. In the gut microbiome, the team did find evidence that environmental factors influence trait heritability. The heritability was typically 48 per cent higher in the dry season than in the wet.