MAY 7, 2020 — Microorganisms living inside and on our body play a crucial role in both the maintenance of our health and the development of disease. Now researchers at UTSA have uncovered evidence about the importance of maintaining physical distance to minimize the spread of microbes among individuals.
The scientists observed monkeys in the wild to understand what role genetics, diet, social groupings and distance in a social network play when it comes to the microbes found inside an animal’s gut.
“Social microbial transmission among monkeys can help inform us about how diseases spread. This has parallels to our current situation in which we are trying to understand how social distancing during the COVID 19 pandemic and future disease outbreaks may influence disease transmission,” said Eva Wikberg, an assistant professor in UTSA’s Department of Anthropology who studies the interaction between ecology, behavior and genetics in primates.
The gut microbiome refers to all the microorganisms inhabiting the digestive tract, starting with the stomach and ending with the colon. Over the past decade the microbiome has come under more scientific focus because it’s believed that an unhealthy gut microbiome can lead to obesity, impaired immune function, weakened parasite resistance and even behavioral changes.
However, researching microbiomes is difficult because of the variation in microbial composition between individuals. One long-standing question is whether this variation is driven by genetic makeup, diets or social environments.
This research inquiry has been especially hard in wild populations because of the lack of detailed data necessary to tease apart the myriad factors that shape the microbiome.
To find an answer, Wikberg and fellow researchers studied the fecal matter of 45 female colobus monkeys that congregated in eight different social groups in a small forest by the villages of Boabeng and Fiema in Ghana. The scientists saw major differences among social groups’ gut microbiomes.
However, individuals from different groups that were more closely connected in the population’s social network had more similar gut microbiomes. This discovery indicates that microbes may be transmitted during occasional encounters with members of other social groups.
A similar setting may be when people come into one-meter proximity of each other at a store. Being in close proximity or accidentally brushing up against someone else may be all it takes to transmit certain microbes.
This study suggests that microbes transmitted this way help the colobus monkeys digest the leaves in their diet. However, further research is needed to investigate whether this type of transmission yields health benefits, which could explain why different social groups occasionally have friendly between-group encounters.
“Studies of wild animals can teach us a lot about the importance of using interventions, such as social distancing, to ensure a safer community during this pandemic,” said Wikberg.
The study’s findings are reported in the May issue of the journal Animal Behaviour.
Wikberg’s other research collaborators are Diana Christie and Nelson Ting, of the Institute of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Oregon, and Pascale Sicotte, of the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of Calgary.
The Racial Justice Book Club was established at UTSA by members of the campus community to explore social justice following acts of racial violence across the nation over the last few years. We are reading The Injustice Never Leaves You: Anti-Mexican Violence in Texas by Monica Muñoz Martinez. We will meet every Wednesday in September and October at 2 pm on Zoom.Virtual Event
The touring ensemble of five London actors will perform Shakespeare’s _Macbeth in the UTSA Recital Hall.Recital Hall, Main Campus
Session for parents to learn about how to prepare for their children's future in higher education.Buena Vista Street. Building (BVB 1.326,) Downtown Campus
Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month at our very own street fair - Calle UTSA. We will have activities, performances, food, music, and piñatas to break open.Student Union Paseo
"La Plática" is a space for thoughtful dialogue to build a sense of connection among the Roadrunner Community by getting to know each other better and sharing what's on our minds and about ourselves to increase to increase awareness of diverse perspectives.Virtual Event
This September 30, the Friday Series will feature Prof. Milena Ang, who will be presenting A Tren to Nowhere: Statistic Development and the Politics of Racial, a paper co-authored with Tania Islas-Weistein where they discuss Mexico's long history of state-led development projects that contribute to economic and racial inequality. The authors argue that despite professing racial justice, official discourses surrounding the Tren Maya reproduce existing symbolic and material forms of racism.McKinney Humanities (MH 4.01.01,) Main Campus
We invite you to learn about the process of screenwriting and explore the intersection of identity and pursuing dreams from Jorge Ramirez-Martinez and Raymond Perez, screenwriters for the Selena: The Series, released on Netflix. They will discuss their careers and writing process, including how their identities as Mexican American and gay men have shaped their professional experiences.Virtual Event
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