As many of our readers know, external factors can influence the composition or make up of our gut microbiomes. It is important to delineate these external factors as we know the gut microbiome composition can have many impacts or consequences on human health. The extent to which ethnicity and socioeconomic status play a role in microbiome composition has been relatively unexplored, in part because these types of studies are difficult to conduct. Regardless, this type of research is important for health research and policy on a large scale. Researchers from Malaysia sought to explore this relationship, as they examined microbiome variation among children of different ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds in Southeast Asia.
Pre-adolescent children were analyzed according to ethnic group and socioeconomic status. The researchers examined 24 relatively wealthy Malaysian children, 17 relatively wealthy Chinese children (wealthier and described to be more hygienic than the Malaysian group), and 20 Ogran Asli indigenous peoples considered to be economically deprived and rely on subsistence living.
16s DNA sequencing of fecal samples from the subjects revealed that the Orang Asli children had significantly higher OTUs (operational taxonomic unit – a measurement of species diversity) as compared to both the Chinese and Malaysian groups. Specifically, the main differences were seen in bacteria in the Aeromonadales order. Alternatively, the Chinese group displayed the least amount of species diversity. Expanding upon this, functional diversity was also different between groups. Metagenomic sampling indicated that the Orang Asli children had enriched pathways relevant to bacterial colonization and chemotaxis. Functional profiling of the Chinese group showed heightened genetic pathways related to sugar metabolism.
Understanding these relationships are very important with respect to public health issues, especially since we live in a culturally diverse world concomitant to socioeconomic disparity. More and more evidence suggests that the gut microbiome composition is a metric to be taken seriously when analyzing global epidemiology data in different populations throughout the world.