A group of Italian microbiologists discovered that the children of a little Burkinabe village had more biodiversity among their gut bacteria than their peers in Florence, Italy. The Burkinabe gut flora were better suited to breaking down plant fibers, as opposed to simple carbs and protein. This prompted Justin Sonnenburg to wonder about how the Florentines’ ancestors had lost so many gut bacteria. His experiments with mice revealed that their gut bacteria adapted to changes in diet, and that their offspring inherited these changes, suggesting that large swathes of the microbiome can be lost and in a generation when they are not passed down.
- Justin Sonnenburg, who is a microbiologist, believes that the most defining moment in his career that changed the trajectory of his research came from a village in Africa.
- When a group of Italian microbiologists compared the intestinal microbiome of children in Burkina Faso who subsist on sorghum with those in Italy, they found significant differences.
- They found that the microbial community in Florence, Italy was adapted towards proteins, fats, and simple sugars while that in Burkina Faso towards degrading fiber.
“The Western microbiome, the community of microbes scientists thought of as “normal” and “healthy,” the one they used as a baseline against which to compare “diseased” microbiomes, might be considerably different than the community that prevailed during most of human evolution.”