Microbiome : The key to health Smt. Varalakshmi summarizes a recent article on connecting microbiota and ethnicity. Increased urbanisation and movement away from rural farming has decreased microbial diversity especially in the human gut. Learn how this impacts our health.

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Indic Knowledge systems holds the key to unlocking, various otherwise seemingly enigmatic natural processes. At its core this system of science deals with the whole of this cosmic creation as a manifestation of an underlying intelligence (purusha). In the series of articles we plan to bring the readers the interconnections between popular research areas of neuroscience, epigenetics, artificial intelligence with that of Indian sciences of Yoga, Ayurveda, Siddha, Jyotisha. The articles will also explore scientific basis of traditional best practices that has been passed on to us through the civilisational continuum. The idea is to use this platform as a mode of science communication of the Indic sciences citing authentic research articles, proposing new areas of research and to share the knowledge for the benefit of the global community.


Ethnicity or Lifestyle choices – Which can assure better health?

The human body is now considered as the collection of trillions of essential microorganisms such as fungi, bacteria, viruses etc., that help maintain the balance, provide for natural immunity and can cause ailments if the balance tips off.  This collection is called microbiome. A recent research study [1] systematically explored effects of Geographical placement, mode of subsistence and ethnicity on the human microbiota across the lines of microbial diversity, their population in specific sites in the human body. Human microbiome refers specifically to the collection of microorganisms that are resident in the human body. Many interesting facts have emerged that would challenge commonly accepted lifestyle choices and homogenization of medical treatments of modern times.


Mode of Subsistence:

  1. Increased urbanisation and movement away from rural farming has decreased microbial diversity especially in the human gut. This diversity endowed our ancestors with greater stability and flexibility enabling them to cope with challenging ecology. Increased indoor-based secured life-style, refined high protein food consumption, less exposure to soil, forest or domestic animals and habitual use of antibiotics have dramatically impacted the functional role of naturally occurring microbiota so much so that these useful organisms are almost absent in the urban population making them highly prone for infection.


  1. The study suggests that loss of beneficial microbes (such as treponema) which would have played a crucial metabolic role in human health explains the rise of several ‘diseases of civilization’ such as allergies, obesity, diabetes, asthma.


  1. Studies suggested that common skin diseases like dermatitis, psoriasis, acne etc. are often caused not because of pathogens but due to disruption in normal skin microbiota. Age, Gender, Climate, Geographical location, exogenous environmental factors etc., are crucial factors causing a specific pattern of microbial colonization on skin. More over skin microbiome profile showed extreme divergence across the mode of subsistence. For eg: [2] Skin microbial profile of Rural Chinese men (adults and elderly) who participated in a study were derived from soil, water and other environmental sources as they were all agricultural field-workers. While the urban subject’s skin microbiome was human derived predominantly with very little contribution from environment, due to lack of exposure from indoor occupations.

Ethnicity & Geographical Placement:

Analysis across these parameters fires the classic debate Nature Vs Nurture. Irrespective of geographical placements communities of similar subsistence mode exhibit higher degree of microbial convergence especially in the gut area advocating dominance of nurture over nature in human microbiome composition aspect. 

On the contrary host genetics (ethnicity) and there by natural immunity are critical factors shaping microbial ecosystem in the female genitalia. For example Lactobacillus species (the common curdling bacteria) was present higher in the female genitalia profiles of Asian and Caucasian women of reproductive age while African women are prone to have higher population of anaerobic bacteria. This correlates well with the higher incidence of genital infection and preterm births in the African woman community. Even then lifestyle choices such as mode of pregnancy, alcohol usage etc., have substantial influences in influencing the host microbial profile.

The Human microbiome is a buzzword of soughts which is driving plethora of research such as that of therapeutic strategies, soil culturing, nutrition models based on microbiome profiling across the globe. All these current researches are based on those done in WEIRD countries (Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic countries) with native subjects. The research outcomes of this paper categorically describes how geography and environmental factors leads to huge microbial profile divergence and more often than not overpower host genetic traits. Simply because of the higher degree of interaction with the environment. It is interesting to note how in ayurveda and siddha system of medicine it is described that the zonal variation of herbs, its presence or absence in a particular region indicates what are the type of ailments the residents will be prone to.


This study clearly challenges universality of microbiome based treatment strategies so much so that microbial manipulations designed based on research from WEIRD countries may have unintended and adverse consequences in non-western population. It recommends for geographically tailored community-scale approaches to microbiome engineering much similar to our traditional medicine systems.



  1. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmicb.2017.01162/full?utm_source=ad&utm_medium=tw&utm_campaign=ba_sci_fmicb
  2. Ying, S., Zeng, D. N., Chi, L., Tan, Y., Galzote, C., Cardona, C., et al. (2015). The influence of age and gender on skin-associated microbial communities in urban and rural human populations. PLoS ONE 10:e0141842. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0141842


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