It might not be the most pleasant thing to think about, but the content of gorilla poop could show us humans what we’re lacking from our everyday, modern diet.
A study published Thursday in the journal, Nature Communications, detailed the findings of researchers who studied the gut microbiome of 87 western lowland gorillas in the Republic of Congo’s Sangha Region over a span of three years. Based on the extensive survey, which also involved a number of chimpanzees in the area, the microbes in the apes’ guts tended to vary in the dry summer season, at a time when these creatures generally adjust to the change in weather and take advantage of the various fruits in the area. According to UPI, this varies from the apes’ wet season diet, which typically includes leaves and bark.
In order to determine the effects of these changing, seasonal diets, the researchers used sequencing techniques with the gorilla poop, analyzing the genetic material found in each microbe. It was discovered that the microbes responsible for assisting the apes in breaking down fibrous foods, such as bark, were replaced each year by a different collection of bacteria that helped break down fruit, with the latter microbes working on a protective mucous layer found in the animals’ intestines.
Taking stock of how the gorilla poop study revealed how much ape diets and gut microbiomes differ from those of a modern human, Discover magazine observed that the present-day human diet might not be the optimal regimen for us. That’s because humans generally do not change their diet from season to season, especially if it’s a diet that’s rich in meat, with low fruit and vegetable content. As a result, it’s highly possible that many humans could have unbalanced gut microbiomes due to the lack of fiber, and could also be at greater risk of gut-related illnesses, including, but not limited to colon cancer.
“The fact that our microbiomes are so different from our nearest living evolutionary relatives says something about how much we’ve changed our diets, consuming more protein and animal fat at the expense of fiber,” observed study co-author Brent Williams, an assistant epidemiology professor at the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.
In a separate statement quoted by UPI, Williams’ fellow Center for Infection and Immunity researcher, Allison L. Hicks, said that the gorilla poop study could help influence future research, as it’s important to understand how the missing bacteria in the human gut microbiome could play a part in determining our chances of being diagnosed with certain diseases.