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One example is fermentation, where the microbial digestion of foods begins outside the body using microbes that are also found within the gut. The benefit of fermentation is that it allows the storage of food so that groups of humans can stay together in one place, forming a broader community. Fermented foods include many kinds of cheese, yogurts, and curds, wines and vinegars. The microbes found in these foods are part of the extended microbiomes of the human hosts.
In fermentation, the microbes cannot survive outside the body of the host and can only be transferred among the host animals themselves by close contact. The consumption of fermented foods led to the reintroduction of the microbes into the human group, so that eventually, the microbiota of the humans in that community shared more significant similarities compared to that from other human groups. Implications
Comparisons between the microbiomes of different groups throw up some questions and theories about how the human stomach requires its acidic internal environment, how the gut microbiomes develop their unique structures and the presence of fermentation in early human society.
The scientists think that social behavior among humans and other primates is fostered by the interdependence of microbes in their gut and other parts of the body, which were passed around by the social conditions and thus became fit to survive the changing conditions of expanding human territory.
Researcher Rob Dunn says, "We outsourced our body microbes into our foods. That could well be the most important tool we ever invented. But it is a hard tool to see in the past and so we don't talk about it much. Stone artifacts preserve, but fish or beer fermented in a hole in the ground doesn't."
The scientists admit that their conclusions are hypothetical. Still, they hope that further research by paleoanthropologists, environmental scientists, and medical scientists will be able to validate these theories by testing them out.
Says Dunn, "We are hoping the findings will change some questions and that other researchers will study the consequences of changes in the human microbiome. Hopefully, the next decade will see more focus on microbes in our past and less on sharp rocks." Journal reference:
Dunn, R. R., Amato, K., Archie, E., et al. The internal, external and extended microbiomes of hominins. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. doi: 10.3389/fevo.2020.00025. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fevo.2020.00025/full
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