Gut microbiome transitions across generations in different ethnicities in an urban setting-the HELIUS study

Microbiome. 2023 May 8;11(1):99. doi: 10.1186/s40168-023-01488-z.


Background: During the course of history, various important lifestyle changes have caused profound transitions of the gut microbiome. These include the introduction of agriculture and animal husbandry, a shift from a nomadic to a more sedentary lifestyle, and recently increased levels of urbanization and a transition towards a more Western lifestyle. The latter is linked with shifts in the gut microbiome that have a reduced fermentative capability and which are commonly associated with diseases of affluence. In this study, in which 5193 subjects are included, we investigated the direction of microbiome shifts that occur in various ethnicities living in Amsterdam by comparing 1st and 2nd generation participants. We furthermore validated part of these findings with a cohort of subjects that moved from rural Thailand to the USA.

Results: The abundance of the Prevotella cluster, which includes P. copri and the P. stercorea trophic network, diminished in the 2nd generation Moroccans and Turks but also in younger Dutch, whilst the Western-associated Bacteroides/Blautia/Bifidobacterium (BBB) cluster, which has an inverse correlation with α-diversity, increased. At the same time, the Christensenellaceae/Methanobrevibacter/Oscillibacter trophic network, which is positively associated with α-diversity and a healthy BMI, decreased in younger Turks and Dutch. Large compositional shifts were not observed in South-Asian and African Surinamese, in whom the BBB cluster is already dominant in the 1st generation, but ASV-level shifts towards certain species, associated amongst others with obesity, were observed.

Conclusion: The Moroccan and Turkish populations, but also the Dutch population are transitioning towards a less complex and fermentative less capable configuration of the gut microbiota, which includes a higher abundance of the Western-associated BBB cluster. The Surinamese, whom have the highest prevalence of diabetes and other diseases of affluence, are already dominated by the BBB cluster. Given the continuous increase in diseases of affluence, this devolution towards low-diversity and fermentatively less capable gut microbiome compositions in urban environments is a worrying development. Video Abstract.

Keywords: Ethnicity; Gut microbiota; Machine learning; Migration generation; The HELIUS study; Trophic network.

Publication types

  • Video-Audio Media
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Husbandry
  • Animals
  • Bacteroides
  • Bifidobacterium
  • Clostridiales
  • Ethnicity
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Microbiota*