Show Details

Gut Microbe Diversity

April 17, 2015

Disease-stopping hygiene practices may also slow the spread of helpful microbes.



Have we over-sanitized our guts? I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

People living in Papua New Guinea have far more kinds of microbes living in their guts than U.S. residents   do, and this diversity may protect them from some disorders. In the journal Cell Reports, University of Alberta microbial ecologist Jens Walter suggests the main reason is sanitation. He and his colleagues found that although Papua New Guineans had many varieties of microbes, there was little variation person to person, suggesting they’re sharing their germs.

JENS WALTER (University of Alberta):

In modern societies, we improved sanitation, to try and limit the  dispersal of pathogenic organisms, and probably as kind of a negative side effect, we are preventing the dispersal of symbiotic bacteria.


Rather than cut back on sanitation, he suggests learning how best to reintroduce the helpful bacteria we may have lost. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Learn more about this study


A graphic comparing the gut microbiota of U.S. residents (US) to that of people from Papua New Guinea (PNG). The same kinds of bacteria are shared between PNG and the US. But diversity within individuals in the US is lower. Different lifestyle factors that may influence these patterns are shown at the top of the figure. Westernization may decrease bacterial dispersal rates. (Source)