Sunday, 10 November 2019

Study of African animals illuminates links between environment, diet and gut microbiome

NOVEMBER 4, 2019

In recent years, the field of microbiome research has grown rapidly, providing newfound knowledge—and newfound questions—about the microbes that inhabit human and animal bodies. A new study adds to that foundation of knowledge by using DNA analysis to examine the relationship between diet, the environment and the microbiome.

"Environmental change may influence what animals are eating, and as a consequence, influence their microbiome and health in a variety of ways that can only be understood in natural settings," said study lead author Tyler Kartzinel, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Brown University and a former postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University.

He added that the study's innovative DNA-based methods might ultimately provide new avenues to study and understand human microbiomes as well.

The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, Nov. 4, involved collecting and analyzing more than 1,000 samples of fecal material from 33 herbivore species—which ranged from diminutive dwarf antelopes to gigantic giraffes and elephants—in an African savanna.

To build on the findings of earlier studies, the research team—a collaboration of scientists in the ecology and evolutionary biology departments at Brown and Princeton, and colleagues from the botany department of the National Museums of Kenya—sought to study a wide variety of species by analyzing samples gathered from their natural habitat. Much of the fieldwork was done at the Mpala Research Centre in Kenya, which is managed by Princeton University in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, the National Museums of Kenya and the Kenya Wildlife Service.

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