A study found that an active social life helped spread gut bacteria among chimps. The researchers studied a chimpanzee community at the Gombe National Park in Tanzania for eight years.
They monitored the social activities of 40 chimpanzees. During dry season, the chimps are often seen alone, but during the wet season, they forage in groups. The researchers sequenced the bacteria's genes in the fecal samples taken routinely.
Findings showed that increased social activities resulted in greater diversity of species in the chimps' microbiomes, as shown in the fecal sample analysis. The microbiomes during the social periods were also highly similar, which suggests that the social activities offer ways for the transfer of bacterial colonies among chimpanzees. The study was published in the journal Science Advances on Friday.
A previous research concluded that mothers can pass down their microbiome to their children before and after birth. The researchers believe that the chimpanzees' social interactions are also ways to pass down microbiomes from one generation to another.
Microbiomes are affected by food source and consumption. Similar diet among the chimpanzees could account for the microbial similarities. However, certain behaviors such as poop flinging and grooming can transmit bacteria just the same.
"You're going to share more bacteria with people that you come into contact with frequently, but there's also going to be some low degree of sharing that happens with people all across the world," said Andrew Moeller, co-author and evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Berkeley.
A 2015 study by Elizabeth Archie and Jenny Tung found the same bacteria and socialization relationship between two communities of wild baboons living at the Amboseli National Park in Kenya. Baboons that groom one another share similar microbiomes, which led to having two distinct communities, even if they live in the same area and have the same diet.
Further research is needed to see if greater diversity of gut bacteria among the chimps has disease protection abilities. Moreover, the team aims to study the same relationship in humans. The study could help the scientific community better understand conditions such as Crohn's disease and irritable bowel syndrome or why highly sociable people live longer.
Photo: Mark Fosh | Flickr