Researchers Believe That Socialization Helps Spread Beneficial Gut Bacteria

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Chimpanzees at Gombe National Park, Tanzania (Photo: By Ikiwaner - Own work, GFDL 1.2,

All our lives, we have been repeatedly warned by our elders to avoid excessive social contact for fear of contracting harmful germs and bacteria. Turns out that it may not be all bad. A recently released study suggests that interaction with others also helps in the acquisition of good bacteria - At least in chimpanzees.

The study, a collaboration between scientists from several universities including Duke, University of Texas and the University of California, Berkeley involved observing a group of wild chimpanzees in Tanzania's Gombe National Park from 2000 to 2008. The scientists were trying to determine if seasonal changes in social behavior impacted the beneficial microbes that reside in the chimpanzee's gastrointestinal tract.

In addition to keeping a close eye on their diet as well as the amount of time the mammals spent as a group and alone, the researchers also analyzed the bacterial DNA in droppings collected from 40 chimpanzees ranging in age from infants to seniors.

Photo: Photo: By Ikiwaner - Own work,
GFDL 1.2,

What they discovered was that during the rainy season, when the chimps were often seen sharing the abundant food with others, their gut bacteria had a lot of diversity.

Conversely, in dry periods, when food supply was scarce and the animals spent time alone, their gut microbiome was less varied.

While the change in diet and weather played a role, the researchers think social interaction was the main reason for the difference.

This is important because not only do good gut microbes play an essential role in digestion, but they also synthesize vitamins and help train the body's immune system.

According to Andrew Moeller, one of the study's co-authors, "The more diverse people's microbiomes are, the more resistant they seem to be to opportunistic infections."

Though the study which was published in Science Advances on January 15, was conducted on chimpanzees, the researchers think the results could also apply to humans. That's because we share numerous bacterial gut species with the mammals. The scientists believe that learning how to increase bacteria diversity could help us fight ailments like Crohn's disease which is known to be caused by the change in gut microbiome.

Though additional studies need to be done on both chimpanzees and humans, this news might alleviate the common perception that excessive socialization helps spread just bad germs and diseases.

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