Associations Among Organochlorine Pesticides, Methanobacteriales, and Obesity in Korean Women

PLoS One. 2011;6(11):e27773. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0027773. Epub 2011 Nov 17.


Background: Although Methanobacteriales in the gut has recently been linked to obesity, no study has examined the hypothesis that waist circumference, a marker of visceral obesity, are positively associated with Methanobacteriales in the general population. Since Methanobacteriales increase in a petroleum-contaminated environment to biodegrade petroleum as one way of autopurification, we also hypothesized that high body burden of highly lipophilic petroleum-based chemicals like organochlorine pesticides (OCPs) is associated with higher levels of Methanobacteriales in the gut.

Methodology/principal findings: Among 83 Korean women who visited a community health service center for a routine health checkup, quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR) based on 16S rDNA was used to quantify Methanobacteriales in feces. Nine OCPs were measured in both serum and feces of 16 subjects. Methanobacteriales were detected in 32.5% (27/83 women). Both BMI and waist circumference among women with Methanobacteriales were significantly higher than in women without Methanobacteriales (P = 0.04 and P = 0.01, respectively). Also, Methanobacteriales levels in feces were positively associated with BMI and waist circumference (r = +0.23 and P = 0.03 for both). Furthermore, there were significant correlations between feces Methanobacteriales levels and serum concentrations of most OCPs, including with cis-nonachlor (r = +0.53, P<0.05), oxychlordane (r = +0.46, P<0.1), and trans-nonachlor (r = +0.43, P<0.1). Despite high correlations of serum and feces concentrations of most OCPs, feces OCP concentrations were not clearly associated with feces Methanobacteriales levels.

Conclusion/significance: In this cross-sectional study, the levels of Methanobacteriales in the human gut were associated with higher body weight and waist circumference. In addition, serum OCP concentrations were positively correlated with levels of Methanobacteriales. There may be a meaningful link among body burden of OCP, Methanobacteriales in the gut, and obesity in the general population.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Body Mass Index
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • DNA, Ribosomal / genetics
  • Feces / chemistry*
  • Feces / microbiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated / blood*
  • Methanobacteriales / genetics*
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / blood*
  • Obesity / etiology*
  • Pesticides / blood*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Republic of Korea
  • Waist Circumference


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • DNA, Ribosomal
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated
  • Pesticides