Thursday, November 29, 2018
Title: “Context is everything: Understanding the interplay between primate diet, physiology, and gut microbes”
Abstract: Gut microbes have diverse influences on human physiology and behavior and have therefore become popular targets for manipulating human health. Nevertheless, despite myriad studies describing patterns of variation in the human gut microbiome, it remains difficult to clearly define a ‘healthy’ human gut microbiome. Because humans inhabit a diverse array of environments and employ a range of lifestyle practices, it is unlikely that the human gut microbiome has a single healthy state. Nevertheless, a suite of shared human biological and ecological traits is likely to be associated with a subset of ‘characteristically human’ gut microbial traits. What these traits are and how they emerged across evolutionary timescales remains an active area of investigation. Here, I use comparative data from non-human primates to explore the effects of diet, physiology, and phylogeny on the composition and function of the gut microbiome and to begin to isolate human gut microbial traits that are unique among primates. This approach provides new insight into the role of microbes in modern human health as well as the evolutionary success of our ancestors.
Dr. Katie Amato is a biological anthropologist studying the gut microbiota in the broad context of host ecology and evolution. She is a trained field primatologist, and her perspectives on physiology, plasticity, and fitness in this environment inspired her interest in host-gut microbe interactions. She is particularly interested in bringing a global health perspective to human microbiome research by describing how changes in the gut microbiota impact nutrition and health in human populations around the world, and pinpointing the social and biological mechanisms that lead to these changes. Her current research focuses on microbial contributions to host nutrition during periods of food shortage or increased nutritional demands (e.g pregnancy), as well as microbial influences on growth, brain metabolism, obesity, and metabolic disease. She also uses non-human primates as models for studying host-gut microbe interactions in selective environments and to determine whether the human gut microbiota has characteristics that are unique among primates. Amato has a B.A. in Biology from Dartmouth College and a Ph.D. in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Northwestern University and an Azrieli Global Scholar for the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR, Humans and the Microbiome Program).