University of Massachusetts Amherst: New Study by UMass Researchers Examines Microbiome Diversity Across Primate Species

A new study led by researchers from the UMass Comparative Primatology Lab details how hair microbiome – the collection of microbes, such as bacteria, fungi, viruses and their genes that naturally live on and inside our bodies – differs between human and nonhuman primates. The findings, they say, have important implications for understanding the biology and conservation of wild and captive primates and the uniqueness of the human microbiome.

In creating the most comprehensive primate hair and skin data set to date, UMass anthropologists Catherine Kitrinos and Jason Kamilar and UMass evolutionary ecologist Rachel Bell have found that the nonhuman primate hair has less variation in microbiome diversity across body sites compared to humans, which they believe may be attributed to the relatively uniform distribution of hair and other skin appendages across their body.

The researchers also found that the nonhuman primate hair microbiome varies with host species identity, host sex, host environment and host body site, which they say demonstrates that nonhuman primate hair microbiome diversity varies with both evolutionary and environmental factors and within and across primate species.

Kitrinos, a doctoral candidate in anthropology and the study’s lead author, Kamilar, an associate professor in anthropology and director of the Comparative Primatology Lab, and Bell, a master’s and doctoral student in organismic and evolutionary biology, along with Brenda Bradley of George Washington University, presented their research in a paper published by the American Society for Microbiology journal mSystems. They collected data from 158 hair samples representing eight body regions each of 12 different nonhuman primate species.

“Our results provide not only insight into primate variation but also a comparative context for understanding human evolution and uniqueness,” the researchers write. “The evolution of reduced body hair and the increase in eccrine gland density in the human lineage has likely played a major role in differentiating the human skin and hair microbiome from that of other primates. This information in turn illustrates how an evolutionary change in one trait (distribution of body hair) can have a substantial impact on other key biological differences (microbiome diversity).”

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