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Sociable Chimps May Have a Rich Microbiome

First Posted: Jan 15, 2016 11:27 PM EST
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Being more social may give you more diverse gut microbes-at least if you're a chimp. Scientists have found that chimpanzees that are more sociable have far more varied gut microbiomes.

In this latest study, the researchers monitored changes in the gut microbes and the social behavior of wild chimpanzees. More specifically, they analyzed the bacterial DNA in droppings collected from 40 chimpanzees between 200 and 2008. The chimpanzees ranged in age from infants to seniors.

The scientists identified thousands of species of bacteria thriving in the animals' guts, many of which were also commonly sound in humans. The researchers then combined the microbial data with daily records of what the animals ate and how much time they spent with other chimps versus alone.

"Chimpanzees tend to spend more time together during the wet season when food is more abundant," said Steffen Foerster, who co-authored the study, in a news release. "During the dry season, they spend more time alone."

The researchers found that each chimpanzee carried about 20 to 25 percent more bacterial species during the abundant and social wet season than during the dry season. It's likely that bacteria passes from chimp to chimp during grooming, mating, or other forms of physical contact.

The findings reveal a bit more about chimps, but also may tell scientists more about humans. It could be that being social helps develop a healthy gut microbiome, which means that being social on a regular basis is important for health.

The findings are published in the journal Science Advances.

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