Social interactions shape the evolution of gut bacteria

In a significant research breakthrough, scientists have recently published a groundbreaking study in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution. The study addresses a critical knowledge gap regarding the impact of social interactions and shared environments on the evolution of gut bacteria in hosts.

Previous studies in both humans and animals have shown that hosts living in a social condition, sharing the same space, tend to harbor a more similar microbiota composition. This is attributed to the increased microbial transmission between co-housed hosts, particularly in the same household, which leads to the colonization of similar bacterial species in the gut.

To delve deeper into this area of study, the researchers utilized an innovative in vivo experimental evolution approach. They focused on E. coli cells and found an average transmission rate of 7% of these cells per day between hosts co-habiting in the same household. This transmission rate resulted in a high level of shared evolutionary events in the gut microbiomes of co-housed mice. Intriguingly, the rate of mutation accumulation in E. coli remained the same, irrespective of the social context of the hosts.

These findings indicate that hosts sharing the same diet and habits are expected to have a similar composition of microbiome species, and notably, experience comparable bacterial evolutionary dynamics. This research is the first of its kind to reveal the crucial role played by bacterial transmission across hosts in shaping the adaptive evolution of new bacterial strains within gut microbiomes.

Nelson Frazão, the lead author of the study, stresses the importance of these findings, stating, “Our research provides compelling evidence that social interactions and shared environments play a crucial role in the evolution of gut bacteria. Understanding these dynamics sheds new light on the interplay between human or animal health and social interactions.”

The discoveries made by the research team, led by principal investigator Isabel Gordo at the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência, are expected to pave the way for new and exciting studies on the complex relationship between social interactions, intestinal bacteria, and human health.

This study contributes significantly to our understanding of how social conditions and shared environments impact the gut microbiome’s evolution, highlighting the critical role of bacterial transmission in shaping the adaptive evolution of gut bacteria. It also underscores the importance of considering social interactions and shared habitats in studies related to human and animal health, providing valuable insights for future research in this field.

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