We studied skin microbial communities of humans and cattle (zebu) in rural Madagascar to investigate how zebu ownership affects microbial composition of the human skin, and to characterize non-Western human and zebu skin communities more generally. A portion of the 16S rRNA gene was sequenced from samples of zebu backs and human ankles, forearms, hands and armpits. Analyses were conducted in QIIME, R and LEfSe.
Human and zebu samples varied in microbial community composition, yet we did not find evidence for a shared microbial signature between an individual and his zebu. Microbial communities differed across human body sites, with ankles reflecting increased diversity and greater similarity to samples from zebu, likely due to extensive shared contact with soil by humans and zebu.
Cattle ownership had, at best, weak effects on the human skin microbiome. We suggest that components of human biology and lifestyles override the microbial signature of close contact with zebu, including genetic factors and human-human interaction, irrespective of zebu ownership. Understanding ecological drivers of microbial communities will help determine ways that microbial transfer and community composition change as populations adopt Western lifestyles, and could provide insights into zoonotic disease transmission.
The skin harbors a dynamic community of microorganisms, where contact with humans, other animals and the environment can alter microbial communities. Most research on the human skin microbiome features Western populations living in hygienic conditions, yet these populations have vastly different patterns of environmental contact than the majority of people on Earth, including those living in developing countries.