Gut microbiota composition in Himalayan and Andean populations and its relationship with diet, lifestyle and adaptation to the high-altitude environment

J Anthropol Sci. 2019 Dec 31;96:189-208. doi: 10.4436/JASS.97007. Epub 2019 Nov 25.


Human populations living at high altitude evolved a number of biological adjustments to cope with a challenging environment characterised especially by reduced oxygen availability and limited nutritional resources. This condition may also affect their gut microbiota composition. Here, we explored the impact of exposure to such selective pressures on human gut microbiota by considering different ethnic groups living at variable degrees of altitude: the high-altitude Sherpa and low-altitude Tamang populations from Nepal, the high-altitude Aymara population from Bolivia, as well as a low-altitude cohort of European ancestry, used as control. We thus observed microbial profiles common to the Sherpa and Aymara, but absent in the low-altitude cohorts, which may contribute to the achievement of adaptation to high-altitude lifestyle and nutritional conditions. The collected evidences suggest that microbial signatures associated to these rural populations may enhance metabolic functions able to supply essential compounds useful for the host to cope with high altitude-related physiological changes and energy demand. Therefore, these results add another valuable piece of the puzzle to the understanding of the beneficial effects of symbiosis between microbes and their human host even from an evolutionary perspective.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Adult
  • Altitude
  • Biological Evolution
  • Bolivia / ethnology
  • Diet / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Life Style / ethnology*
  • Male
  • Mountaineering / physiology*
  • Nepal / ethnology
  • Young Adult