Infants from non-industrialized communities have more gut diversity than city-born babies

Gut health is still an emerging field of research, and businesses have capitalized on the importance of maintaining the gut microbiome with promising products “guaranteed” to keep it well-nourished and thriving. But just as everyone’s life experience is different, everyone’s microbiome will shape differently. New research from Stanford University School of Medicine finds that the gut microbiomes of infants living in non-industrialized societies are more diverse and vastly different from urbanized infants.

Infants start off on a blank slate and through exposure to the mother’s vaginal microbiome, and other outside factors such as breastmilk, pets, or being outside, they slowly develop their own microbes that shape their gut health. However, much gut research has focused on the microbiome of infants living in wealthy, industrialized nations. Little is known about the infant gut microbiome living non-industrialized lifestyles.

In the current study, the team studied the microbiomes of 6-month-old infants living in the Hadza hunter-gatherer societies of Tanzania. They compared them to a global data set containing infant microbiomes data from 18 different industrialized countries. The team collected poop samples from the 6-month-old infants and used RNA sequences to study the gut. 

After six months, there were stark contrasts to the infant microbiomes coming from an industrialized versus a non-industrialized nation. Researchers found that the gut microbiome of infants in hunter-gatherer societies had a more diverse gut with higher levels of the Bifidobacteria bacterial species compared to infants from industrialized countries. The infants from rural areas also showed genetic evidence of more than 20% new bacterial species not seen in urbanized children.

Study authors pinpointed why infant microbiomes from two different habitats vary so greatly. They suggest it has to do more with lifestyle choices than geographical location. More specifically, early gut diversity may have to do more with exposure to the mother’s microbes and being outside more.

While not directly researched in the study, the team predicts that having early gut diversity could influence a person’s risk of developing inflammatory-related diseases.

“Our results also highlight the question of whether lifestyle-specific differences in the gut microbiome’s developmental trajectory predispose populations to diseases common in the industrialized world, such as those driven by chronic inflammation,” wrote Matthew R. Olm and his team in the research article.

The research study is published and available to read in the journal Science.


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About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

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