Our gut microbiome -- the ever-changing "rainforest" of bacteria living in our intestines -- is primarily affected by our lifestyle, including what we eat or the medications we take, most studies show.
In the study, published recently in Science, researchers discovered that most bacteria in the gut microbiome are heritable after looking at more than 16,000 gut microbiome profiles collected over 14 years from a long-studied population of baboons in Kenya's Amboseli National Park. However, this heritability changes over time, across seasons and with age. The team also found that several of the microbiome traits heritable in baboons are also heritable in humans.
"The environment plays a bigger role in shaping the microbiome than your genes, but what this study does is move us away from the idea that genes play very little role in the microbiome to the idea that genes play a pervasive, if small, role," said Elizabeth Archie, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and a principal investigator on the study who is also affiliated with the Eck Institute for Global Health and the Environmental Change Initiative.
The gut microbiome performs several jobs. In addition to helping with food digestion, it creates essential vitamins and assists with training the immune system. This new research is the first to show a definitive connection with heritability.