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How industrialized life remodels the microbiome

Thousands of different bacterial species live within the human gut. Most are beneficial, while others can be harmful. A new study has revealed that these bacterial populations can remake themselves within the lifetime of their host, by passing genes back and forth.

The researchers also showed that this kind of gene transfer occurs more frequently in the microbiomes of people living in industrialized societies, possibly in response to their specific diets and lifestyles.

Specifically, scientists investigated the extent to which the rates and targets of horizontal gene transfer (HGT) vary across thousands of bacterial strains from 15 human populations spanning a range of industrialization. They show that HGTs have accumulated in the gut microbiome over recent host generations and that HGT occurs at high frequency within individuals. Comparison across human populations reveals that industrialized lifestyles are associated with higher HGT rates and that the functions of HGTs are related to the level of host industrialization

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