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Social Activity Among Chimpanzees Boosts Beneficial Gut Bacteria

Update Date: Jan 18, 2016 03:58 PM EST

The more sociable chimpanzees can help to transfer "good" gut microbes, according to a study headed by scientists at Duke University.

After monitoring wild chimpanzees at Gombe National Park for eight years, scientists recorded the changes in their gut microbes as well as social behavior. It was found that the healthy bacteria in the gastrointestinal tracts rose in those that were sociable and experienced closer contact with others.

Even as hundreds of bacteria help in the breakdown of food, synthesis of vitamins and other body functions, reducing these microbes leads to diabetes, obesity and a number of other diseases.

"The more diverse people's microbiomes are, the more resistant they seem to be opportunistic infections," Andrew Moeller, co-author of the study, said in a press release.

The amount of gut bacteria was examined as the scientists analysed the DNA in droppings that were gathered from 40 chimpanzees from babies to seniors. The records were compared with other documents of their social behavior. Thousands of bacteria species in animal guts, such as the Olsenella and Prevotella, were found in gastrointestinal tracts.

"Chimpanzees tend to spend more time together during the wet season when food is more abundant," said Steffen Foerster, another co-author of the study. "During the dry season, they spend more time alone."

Chimpanzees tend to carry about 20 to 25 percent more gut bacteria in the social wet season as compared to the dry one, not merely due to seasonal changes in diet, but the amount of social activity they underwent.

More research is needed to apply them to humans.

"One of the main reasons that we started studying the microbiomes of chimpanzees was that it allowed us to do studies that have not or cannot be done in humans," study co-author Howard Ochman said. "It's really an amazing and previously underexploited resource."

The study was published in the Jan.15,2016 issue of Science Advances.

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