The evolution of the human gut microbiome - characterizing the development of today´s human gut microbiome by analyzing non-human microbiome profiles

Principal Investigator

Prof. Dr. rer. nat.

Associated Doctoral Researcher

Associated Principal Investigator

Background and current state of research

The gut microbiome is an integral part of the human gastrointestinal tract and plays a key role in several chronic disease pathologies.
The diversity and function of the colonic bacterial microbiota has been characterized in many studies, but the overall picture with all of the influencing factors such as genetics and environmental factors like geography and nutrition that result in differences between individuals, is far from being complete.
However, despite distinctions, the major bacterial phyla (Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes) and sometimes even genera seem to be conserved in mammalian evolution. (1) Furthermore, key signature taxa known as enterotype-like clusters were also found in various mammalian species. (2) The characterization of microbial evolution in the mammalian gut will enlarge the knowledge of the healthy gut microbiome, its variation and response to different factors. This will lead to a better understanding of the development as well as progression of several gut-related diseases.

1: Ley RE, Hamady M, Lozupone C, et al. 2008. Evolution of mammals and their gut microbes. Science 320:1647-51.
2: Moeller AH, Degnan PH, Pusey AE, et al. 2012. Chimpanzees and humans harbour compositionally similar gut enterotypes. Nat Commun 3:1179.

Our goals

The aim of this project is to enlarge the local biobank with non-human samples and the corresponding microbial profiles. The microbial profiles will be used to decipher similarities as well as differences in the gut microbial composition between the various animal species and especially between chimpanzees and humans. This will result in a better understanding of co-evolution of mammals and their microbial communities.

How to get there

In collaboration with the Tierpark Gettorf [the Gettorf zoo] we will collect fecal samples of different animals such as chimpanzees, gibbons, lemurs, kangaroos, camels and many others. Phenotypic information like age, gender, descent and specific characteristics as well as information regarding nutrition will be collected. Fecal samples will be processed, sequenced with high-throughput next-generation sequencing technology, and finally analyzed and compared to the human gut microbiome.