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Comparative Primate Microbial Ecology

Abstract

The primate body hosts trillions of microbes. Interactions between primate hosts and these microbes profoundly affect primate physiology, reproduction, health, survival and ultimately, evolution. Because females are central to population viability and because reproductive tract microbiota directly influence female health, fecundity and pregnancy outcomes, understanding both primate variation in microbial ecologies and what factors influence microbial variation is crucial to understanding patterns of primate host-microbe relations. The goals of this research are to define the microbial community compositions from a select subset of wild primates differing by phylogenetic group, socio-ecology, mating system, and morphology, and to test hypotheses that can explain microbial variation among primates. Specifically, the researchers hypothesize that primate bacterial patterns: 1) vary widely, both within and among species, and 2) co-vary with size, reproductive, taxonomic and social factors. The researchers will apply emerging genomic techniques to analyze, define, and compare both the composition and dynamics of human and nonhuman primate microbial communities. The techniques include culture independent, direct sequencing and analysis of 16S rDNA clone libraries to generate microbial phylogenies that identify the microbes in primate reproductive ecosystems. These phylogenies will illustrate microbial community composition, and will be analyzed in the contexts of primate phylogeny and reproductive and social behavior, both within and among species. Data from this study will produce fundamental information about how microbes affect primates through relationships that range from highly beneficial and codependent to severely pathological. Diverse primate species are included, enabling targeted hypothesis testing, statistical study and insights on causes of microbial community differences among primate species. The analyses in this research will utilize cutting-edge molecular genomic analyses that have not yet received wide notice or application in bioanthropology. The researchers expect comparative microbial data to provide crucial insights into the evolution of primate (including human) sexuality and reproductive health. The broader impact of this transformative research will allow an understanding of human-microbe interactions, both pathological and non-pathological, and will have valuable implications for biomedicine, such as the relationship between pathological microbes and human preterm birth, adverse pregnancy, and chronic, debilitating health problems in women. In addition, improved data on microbial forces that impact reproduction will benefit primate conservation efforts.

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Funding Source

Project Period

2008-2014