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Understanding extinct microbes may influence the state of modern human health
Date:1/5/2009

to the modern world economy.

In living people, the gut microbiome is frequently studied using fecal samples. This gave Lewis and his colleagues an idea. To understand the state of microbiomes before the global world economy, they would compare two ancient coprolites, which are old dry or fossilized feces. The coprolites were 1,300 years old from Central Mexico. Researchers performed genetic testing to determine that the two coprolites were from two different people, and then analyzed the microbiomes within the coprolites.

The researchers retrieved ancient DNA evidence for bacteria species similar to that seen in human microbiomes today. The types of bacteria present were typical of the human gut. Lewis and his collaborators were also able to characterize the functional aspects of these extinct microbiomes. Comparing the two ancient samples, they found them to be very similar to one another.

These findings were compared to human microbiomes today. Lewis and colleagues found that the two ancient microbiomes were more similar to each other functionally than a sample of modern microbiomes. They proposed that prehistoric microbiomes were more geographically structured than those found todaya discovery that, if true, would change the way NIH and others look at human microbiomes.

Geographically structured microbiomes have ramifications for human health. Pioneering work on modern microbiomes has shown that certain bacteria can impact disease and health states, including diabetes and immune systems disorders. In fact, modern medicine may have caused some of these negative impacts. For example, antibiotic treatment of young children is known to increase their risks of developing allergies later in life because their immune system develops improperly. Understanding ancient microbiomes provides a better picture of microbiomes as they coadapted with our ancestors.

The human microbiome effort is relatively new. Lewis considers hi
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Contact: Jana Smith
jana.smith@ou.edu
405-325-1322
University of Oklahoma
Source:Eurekalert

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