Microbial Anthropology: the convergence of microbiomes and their modern impacts, through the lens of evolution and ecology

Figure 1 from Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello 2016. The fieldwork team leaving a community in the jungle. Image courtesy of Oscar Noya.


In a recent story published in Cell this week, I walk through my own life and career, to deliver the message that humans are changing their own microbial communities as well as those in animals and in the environment, and that health research needs a substantial dose of an evolutionary, ecological and anthropological perspective to understand the etiology of modern diseases. After all, humans have coevolved with bacteria, and modern lifestyles are impacting not only the human microbiome itself, but also the environmental microbes we need to be exposed to in childhood, to be healthy the rest of our lives. This attains the microbes of the built environment.

Consistent with their long evolutionary history and with their omnipresence in our planet, the study of microbes and their functions deserves to be approached from many angles, by multidisciplinary teams, to get some light out of the intrincate complexity of the habitats microbes colonize.

Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello


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Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello

The Dominguez-Bello laboratory is in the Division of Translational Medicine at the NYU School of Medicine. Research in the lab focuses on the co-evolution of the microbiota and host, and impacts exerted by Western lifestyle practices. We perform comparative microbial surveys of vertebrae colonized organs, and currently study the human microbiota spanning Westernization. We focus on its development from birth, immune and metabolic functions, impact by modern practices and restoration strategies. We also study the role of the built environment in microbial transmission, integrating the fields of anthropology and architecture into microbial ecology.