The Influence of Social Conditions Across the Life Course on the Human Gut Microbiota: A Pilot Project With the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2017 Dec 15;73(1):124-133. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbx029.


Objective: To test the feasibility of collecting and integrating data on the gut microbiome into one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies of aging and health, the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (WLS). The long-term goal of this integration is to clarify the contribution of social conditions in shaping the composition of the gut microbiota late in life. Research on the microbiome, which is considered to be of parallel importance to human health as the human genome, has been hindered by human studies with nonrandomly selected samples and with limited data on social conditions over the life course.

Methods: No existing population-based longitudinal study had collected fecal specimens. Consequently, we created an in-person protocol to collect stool specimens from a subgroup of WLS participants.

Results: We collected 429 stool specimens, yielding a 74% response rate and one of the largest human samples to date.

Discussion: The addition of data on the gut microbiome to the WLS-and to other population based longitudinal studies of aging-is feasible, under the right conditions, and can generate innovative research on the relationship between social conditions and the gut microbiome.

Keywords: Biodemography; Health disparities; Survey methods.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging
  • Feces / microbiology
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pilot Projects
  • Research Design
  • Social Conditions*
  • Wisconsin
  • Young Adult