The world is full of wonders and bursting with life. Life has managed to colonise every corner of the world and, wherever we look, there is life, with many forms and variations. But some areas of the world harbour more biodiversity than others. There are deserts and there are jungles. Also in and on our bodies, we see wonderful biodiversity and the most biodiversity is in our guts. Our guts form a rich, diverse ecosystem. Our guts are the amazon forests of our bodies.
There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of different bacterial species present in our bodies, forming our microbiome. But does everyone around the world have the same diversity in their guts? Or does the microbiome diversity change between people around the world?
Fast food, low diversity.
In a study from 2015 scientists looked at the differences in the microbiome between North Americans of african descent and rural Africans living in Africa and found that, although they were genetically related, they had very different microbiomes. Rural Africans had a much more rich and diverse microbiome compared to North-Americans. But these scientists went a step further, and asked the North-Americans and Rural Africans to exchange their diets for a few days, to see what happens with their microbiome. So Rural Africans were given burger & chips, and pizza and cola, typical of North American diets, and North Americans enjoyed the pleasures of “Putu” a stiff porridge with a high-fibre content made from corn-flower called “mielie meal” with salt and vegetables added for flavouring. After just a few days, thanks to this fibre-rich diet, the microbiome of North Americans started to thrive and become more biodiverse, whereas the microbiome of Africans started to, well…look more like a desert. In other words, their microbiomes adjusted quickly to the diet consumed.
Culture & diversity
While some bacteria are present in literally all human beings, we also see that there is a huge diversity in the gut microbiome around the world. Some bacteria are found only in people living in certain regions. One example is the gut bacterium with the wonderful name Bacteroides plebeius, which was discovered in 2010 in the guts of Japanese. This bacterium helps humans to digest algae. Whereas algae is common in Japanese food, it is uncommon in North-America and this bacterium is also rare in the guts of North Americans. The discovery of Bacteroides plebeius in Japanese microbiomes was probably the first clear demonstration of how people’s culture has impacted the gut microbiome. In general, we can conclude that most of the differences in gut bacteria between one person and another is largely environmental, influenced for example, by diet, which is very important for the microbiome.
A healthy environment
Our guts are the amazon forests of our bodies, but our environment, in particular out diet, can turn them into a desert….Should we care?
Yes! We should care! In the same way as diversity of life forms around the planet are a sign of a healthy planet, the microbiome diversity has also been linked to a healthy body.