How Burgers and Fries Are Killing Your Microbial Balance


  • How Burgers and Fries Are Killing Your Microbial Balance

    So a remarkable and somewhat quixotic effort has begun to catalog and possibly preserve, before they disappear, the #microbes of people who live in environments thought to resemble humanity’s past—people whose #microbiomes may approximate an ancestral state. Researchers are motoring down rivers in the Amazon, off-roading in the East African savanna, hiking into the mountain villages of Papua New Guinea. They see themselves as rushing to catalog an ecosystem that may soon disappear.

    “It’s really our last chance to harvest a lot of these microbes from around the world,” Rob Knight, a microbiologist at the University of California, San Diego, told me. “We have to do it before it’s too late—and it’s very nearly too late.”

    He and others suspect these populations won’t retain their traditional ways much longer. Antibiotics, thought to deplete microbes, are already used frequently in some communities. And as modernization and acculturation progresses—as these peoples move toward the sanitized, indoor-dwelling, junk food-eating reality that characterizes much life in developed nations today—some human microbes, or perhaps certain configurations of those microbes, may be lost forever.

    For now, scientists are careful to characterize the quest as purely descriptive; they want to know how these human microbiomes affect our bodies. Yet a kind of microbial ark—a storage vault for potentially endangered human microbes—is perhaps implied. Martin Blaser, a microbiologist at New York University and Dominguez-Bello’s husband, argues that because Westernized peoples may have lost important microbes, we may have to repopulate ourselves with microbes derived from more traditional-living populations—from, say, Amazonian Amerindians or African hunter-gatherers.

    #microbiote #alimentation

  • How the Western Diet Has Derailed Our Evolution - Issue 30: Identity

    For the microbiologist Justin Sonnenburg, that career-defining moment—the discovery that changed the trajectory of his research, inspiring him to study how diet and native microbes shape our risk for disease—came from a village in the African hinterlands. A group of Italian microbiologists had compared the intestinal microbes of young villagers in Burkina Faso with those of children in Florence, Italy. The villagers, who subsisted on a diet of mostly millet and sorghum, harbored far more microbial diversity than the Florentines, who ate a variant of the refined, Western diet. Where the Florentine microbial community was adapted to protein, fats, and simple sugars, the Burkina Faso microbiome was oriented toward degrading the complex plant carbohydrates we call fiber. Scientists (...)