The Development of Civilization and How it Affected the Human Microbiome

An interesting health concern to ponder: for most of human evolution, our ancestors lived a lifestyle that was extremely different from our own.  Case in point: agriculture first developed in the Fertile Crescent around 10,000 B.C.E., and then developed independently in many other areas of the world over the following millennia.  These past twelve thousand years were, of course, the mere blink of an eye in evolutionary terms; and it is safe to say that our bodily systems developed and adapted to match a hunter-gatherer diet and lifestyle—not a settled, agricultural one. 

How might this affect our health here in the modern world?  One important consideration is the microbiome.  In recent years, scientists and researchers have been compiling a growing amount of evidence that the microbes that inhabit our digestive systems affect nearly all aspects of our health and development.  The makeup of this microbial ecosystem is affected greatly by our diet, and therefore it stands to reason that the enormous changes brought about by the dawn of civilization must have had a dramatic effect on the human microbiome.

In order to confirm this concept, and to develop an idea of what exactly those changes were, scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute conducted a study on the digestive microbes of two distinctive communities in the Central African Republic: the BaAka, (a hunter-gatherer group that lives on wild plants, game, and fruit) and the Bantu (an agricultural community that has frequent contact with the western world.)  The study also compared the findings in both communities to the typical microbiome of an American.

Not surprisingly, the researchers found significant differences between all three groups.  The abundance of Bacteroidetes is perhaps the most representative (and most telling) difference between the three groups.  This microbe is extremely helpful in breaking down fiber rich foods; and a deficiency in Bacteroidetes is often associated with obesity.  The microbe was found to be most abundant in the BaAka community, less abundant among the Bantu, and least abundant in Americans.

Though our distinctive modern diets can cause certain health concerns, they also offer numerous benefits, and reverting to a hunter-gatherer diet is obviously neither viable nor desirable (unless maybe you prefer the Paleo Diet).  With the use of advanced microbial identification and careful study, however, scientists hope to understand and solve the microbial deficiencies experienced by millions of people around the world.  Here CosmosID, we are dedicated to furthering that mission.  Visit our website today to learn more about the exciting work we are driving.