Monkeys and Microbes

October 12, 2016
Jonathan Clayton with monkeys

The large community of beneficial bacteria that lives in the intestines changes dramatically when monkeys leave their wild surroundings and move into captivity. This is the finding of a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by graduate student Jonathan Clayton, working in Dr. Timothy Johnson’s laboratory.  From analyses of bacteria present in the droppings of monkeys from two different primate superfamilies (Vietnamese douc langurs and South American howler monkeys), there appears to be a significant loss in the diversity of the gut microbial population in captive monkeys feeding on restricted zoo diets compared to their wild counterparts, who normally feast on a wide variety of plants. Indeed, the intestinal bacterial communities in captive monkeys begin to resemble, in some respects, those of people eating a Western diet! Are these changes in microbial biodiversity associated with health and disease in primates and people?

by David R. Brown, PhD, VBS Vice Chair