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Primate Microbiome Project

What is the Primate Microbiome Project?

In October 2013, my collaborators and I starting the Primate Microbiome Project (PMP). It's intended purpose is to develop a systematic map of variation in microbiome structure and function across all primates and to relate this to primate health, evolution, behavior, and conservation.​ The primate gastrointestinal tract is home to trillions of bacteria that play major roles in digestion and metabolism, immune system development, and pathogen resistance, among other important aspects of host health and behavior. Diverse communities of microbes are also present in many body sites other than the gut.

What are the Primate Microbiome Project's Goals?

  • Microbes can act as indicators for health of the host, and we expect that broad primate microbiome surveys will allow us to develop predictive biomarkers for certain primate diseases.

  • Primates are the closest animal models to humans, and understanding what drives the structure and variation of their microbiota will help us understand our own.

  • Health and pathogen resistance in primates have direct links to human health, for example in the case of simian immunodeficiency virus.


  • Broad sampling of microbiota across the tree of primate life will help improve our understanding of the co-evolution of host and microbes in primates.

  • The gut microbiota may have played an important role in primate specialization of diet and gut physiology; the PMP aims to determine this role.


  • Gut-brain communication is well established in other animal models. By collecting longitudinal and cross-sectional gut microbiome samples while tracking feeding and social behavior of individual animals, the PMP will allow us to determine how microbes may influence primate behavior.


  • Some endangered primate species fail to thrive in captivity due to gastrointestinal issues; through comparison of wild and captive animals within the same species the PMP will determine whether shifts in gut microbiota are linked with gastrointestinal health in captivity.

  • Primates can act as sentinels for unhealthy shifts in their habitat ecosystems; the PMP will help determine if shifts in their gut microbiota accompany increased stress or other health issues related to habitat encroachment.

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