My Amazon family’s gut microbes may help us fight inflammatory disease

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THE Yanomami people, based in the Amazon rainforest of southern Venezuela and northern Brazil, are one of the last Indigenous groups in the region that still live by hunter-gathering and small-scale farming. They also have the most diverse gut microbiome of any human community studied so far.

David Good is half Yanomami: his mother is a member of the Irokai-teri community and his father is from the US, where Good was brought up. After a life-changing reunion with his mother in the Amazon as an adult, Good is now doing a PhD in microbiology at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. His research involves studying the Yanomami’s unusual microbiomes – the bacteria, viruses and fungi that live on and in our bodies – with a view to developing new therapies for microbiome-associated conditions.

Here, he tells New Scientist about his work with the Yanomami, from collecting stool samples from family members and gaining first-hand experience of their diverse diet – and why he will never eat armadillo again – to what we can learn from studying their microbiomes.

Clare Wilson: Do you mind if I ask about your family? How did your parents meet?

David Good: Sure. My dad was a grad student at Pennsylvania State University and he was tasked to enter the Amazon to study the Yanomami’s protein intake. At the time, in the late 1970s, there was a debate over whether protein deficiency was causing their warfare. [The Yanomami have been falsely portrayed by anthropologists as engaging in a great deal of warfare and violence over access to resources.] He fell in love with the Yanomami way of life: …

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