Individual diet has sex-dependent effects on vertebrate gut microbiota

Nat Commun. 2014 Jul 29;5:4500. doi: 10.1038/ncomms5500.


Vertebrates harbour diverse communities of symbiotic gut microbes. Host diet is known to alter microbiota composition, implying that dietary treatments might alleviate diseases arising from altered microbial composition ('dysbiosis'). However, it remains unclear whether diet effects are general or depend on host genotype. Here we show that gut microbiota composition depends on interactions between host diet and sex within populations of wild and laboratory fish, laboratory mice and humans. Within each of two natural fish populations (threespine stickleback and Eurasian perch), among-individual diet variation is correlated with individual differences in gut microbiota. However, these diet-microbiota associations are sex dependent. We document similar sex-specific diet-microbiota correlations in humans. Experimental diet manipulations in laboratory stickleback and mice confirmed that diet affects microbiota differently in males versus females. The prevalence of such genotype by environment (sex by diet) interactions implies that therapies to treat dysbiosis might have sex-specific effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • DNA Primers / genetics
  • Diet*
  • Dysbiosis / drug therapy
  • Dysbiosis / microbiology
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice / microbiology*
  • Microbiota*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Perches / microbiology*
  • Phenotype*
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Sex Factors
  • Smegmamorpha / microbiology*
  • Species Specificity


  • DNA Primers
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S