The gut microbiota of the Neanderthals already contained some beneficial microorganisms that are also found in our own gut. This suggests the results of a new study.
An international research group led by the University of Bologna achieved this result by extracting and analyzing ancient DNA from 50,000 year old fecal sediments taken at the El Salt archaeological site near Alicante, Spain.
Her work, published in Communication Biology, hypothesizes that ancestral components of human microbiota exist that have lived in the human gastrointestinal tract since the separation between Homo sapiens and Neanderthals more than 700,000 years ago.
“These results enable us to understand which components of the human gut microbiota are essential for our health, as they are integral elements of our biology from an evolutionary point of view,” explains Marco Candela, Professor at the Department of Pharmacy and Biotechnology of the University of Bologna, who coordinated the study. “Today, our microbiota diversity is gradually decreasing due to the context of our modern life. The results of this research group could help us develop diet and lifestyle solutions to counteract this phenomenon.”
The problem of the “modern” microbiota
The gut microbiota is the collection of trillion symbiotic microorganisms that populate our gastrointestinal tract. It is an essential part of our biology and fulfills important functions in our body, e.g. B. the regulation of our metabolism and the immune system as well as the protection against pathogenic microorganisms.
Recent studies have shown how some traits of the modern age – such as consuming processed foods, using drugs, and living in hyper-sanitary environments – lead to critical reductions in the biodiversity of the gut microbiota. This exhaustion is mainly due to the loss of a number of microorganisms known as “old friends”.
“The process of gut microbiota depletion in modern western urban populations could be a major wake-up call,” says Simone Rampelli, researcher at the University of Bologna and lead author of the study. “This process of depletion would be particularly alarming if it resulted in the loss of the microbiota components that are critical to our physiology.”
Indeed, there are some alarming signs. In the West, for example, we are seeing a dramatic increase in chronic inflammatory diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and colon cancer.
How the “old” microbiota can help
How can we identify the constituents of the gut microbiota that are more important to our health? And how can we protect them with targeted solutions? This was the starting point for the idea of identifying the ancestral characteristics of our microbiota – that is, the core of the human gut microbiota, which has remained consistent throughout our evolutionary history. Today’s technology makes it possible to successfully meet this challenge thanks to a new scientific field called paleomicrobiology, which studies ancient microorganisms found in archaeological remains through DNA sequencing.
The research group analyzed ancient DNA samples collected in El Salt (Spain), a place where many Neanderthals lived. Specifically, they analyzed the ancient DNA extracted from 50,000 year old sedimentary feces (the oldest sample of feces available to date). In this way they managed to put together the composition of the microorganisms in the intestines of the Neanderthals. Comparing the composition of the Neanderthals’ microbiota with ours has produced many similarities.
“By analyzing the ancient DNA, we were able to isolate a nucleus of microorganisms that are shared with modern Homo sapiens,” explains Silvia Turroni, researcher at the University of Bologna and first author of the study. “This finding allows us to determine that these ancient microorganisms colonized the intestines of our species prior to the separation between Sapiens and Neanderthals, which occurred about 700,000 years ago.”
Protection of the microbiota
These strains of the human gut microbiota include many well-known bacteria (including Blautia, Dorea, Roseburia, Ruminococcus, and Faecalibacterium) that are fundamental to our health. In fact, by making short chain fatty acids from fiber, these bacteria regulate our metabolic and immune imbalances. There is also the Bifidobacterium: a microorganism that plays a key role in regulating our immune defenses, especially in early childhood. Eventually, the researchers identified some of these “old friends” in the Neanderthal gut microbiota. This confirms the researchers’ hypotheses about the origins of these components and their recent depletion of the human gut microbiota due to our modern living context.
“In the current modernization scenario, where the diversity of the microbiota is gradually decreasing, this information could serve as a guide to integrated diet and lifestyle strategies to protect the microorganisms essential to our health,” Candela concludes. “To this end, promoting a lifestyle that is sustainable for our gut microbiota is of paramount importance as it helps maintain the configurations that are compatible with our biology.”
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This story was published by a wire agency feed with no changes to the text.