Friendship: Man is a social animal, as are other primates. Healthy social connections help people stay in good health, both mentally and physically. According to a new study published in ‘Frontiers in Microbiology,’ the gut microbiome, which keeps the human gut in good shape, plays an important role in keeping our bodily systems intact. So, how does social connection fit into the gut microbe’s complex and diverse nexus? Dr. Katerina Johnson assists us in our investigation.
Johnson is a research associate at the University of Oxford’s Departments of Experimental Psychology and Psychiatry. The researchers concentrated on a single social group of rhesus macaques (22 males and 16 females between the ages of six and twenty years) on the island of Cayo Santiago, off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico. Macaques were once found only in North Africa and Asia. However, in 1938, 409 rhesus macaques were relocated from India to Cayo Santiago. On the 15.2-hectare island today, over 1,000 macaques are divided into several social groups. They are free to roam and forage, though their diet is supplemented daily with monkey chow. Every year, researchers conduct behavioural studies on the monkeys.
“Macaques are highly social animals, and grooming is their main way of making and maintaining relationships, so grooming provides a good indicator of social interactions,” said co-author Dr Karli Watson of the Institute of Cognitive Science at the University of Colorado Boulder.
“Participation in social interactions was positively related to the abundance of certain gut microbes with beneficial immunological functions, and negatively related to the abundance of potentially pathogenic members of the microbiota,” said co-author Dr Philip Burnet, a professor from the University of Oxford’s Department of Psychiatry.
Faecalibacterium and Prevotella, for example, were more abundant in the most sociable monkeys. Streptococcus, which can cause diseases like strep throat and pneumonia in humans, was found in greater abundance in less sociable monkeys.