Recent research into the human gut microbiota shows that gut microbiome diversity in the western world is declining in comparison with traditional societies in less developed countries.

A group of scientists, which included Maria G. Dominguez-Bello of Rutgers University (USA), raised an important question in the October issue of Science regarding the actions that need to be taken to restore and preserve our gut microbiota for future generations.

Over the past decade, numerous studies have led us to believe that a high level of microorganism diversity in the gut microbiota directly correlates with a healthy state of our bodies. The reduction in this microbial diversity over the years due to industrialization and lifestyle in western societies directly correlates with a rise in metabolic, immune and cognitive diseases such as obesity, diabetes, asthma, allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, autism, and other mental health disorders.

Over the past decade, many studies have revealed that a greater diversity of microorganisms in the gut microbiota is directly correlated with good health

A new report in Cell showed that even 6 to 9 months after an immigration from Thailand to the US has a dramatic effect on intestinal microbiota, resulting in reduced microbial diversity and an increased risk of obesity

Western human microbiota is losing bacteria belonging to Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Bacteroides, Prevotella, Oxalobacter and other genera that are essential to our microbial gut community. These bacterial groups increase the protective function of intestinal microbiome, improve digestion, the function of immune and nervous systems and more.

The loss of microbial diversity over the years, due to industrialization and lifestyle in western societies, is directly linked to an increase in disease

How can we “rescue” the microbiome so we may maintain and improve the health of current and future generations? The authors suggest that good care of our microbes could pave the way for new treatments not just for gut ailments, but for other chronic disorders linked to the microbiome such as allergies, obesity and diabetes. These are the steps that could preserve the current state of the gut microbiota:

  • Using antibiotics wisely.
  • Reducing the number of the unnecessary Cesarean sections.
  • Promoting breastfeeding.
  • Reducing antimicrobial products in our environment.
  • Improving the diet by increasing the amount of fiber and diversity of foods to promote microbial diversity and benefit health.
  • Adding functional foods containing pro-, pre- and postbiotics to diets.

Dr. Dominguez-Bello also emphasizes that we may face a number of challenges while trying to restore the microbiota given that we do not fully understand the mechanisms of microbe-host and microbe-microbe interactions. Furthermore, we still lack a definition of a “healthy microbiome”. There are also a number of factors such as geography, host age, gender and human genetics that may affect gut microbiota composition and functionality, preventing us from finding one “formula” that fits all.

According to the authors, the most urgent task for us as a community is to preserve what is left and “rescue” the microbes that are about to disappear. Biobanking human specimens in both industrialized and undeveloped societies is equally important. And even though there are challenges associated with these initiatives, the work has to be done to preserve the health of future generations.




Maria G. Dominguez-Bello, Rob Knight, Jack A. Gilbert, Martin J. Blaser. Preserving microbial diversity. Science. 2018. DOI: 10.1126/science.aau8816