Microbiology

Not Just a Human Zoo

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Science  12 Apr 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6129, pp. 121
DOI: 10.1126/science.340.6129.121-c
CREDIT: © PETE OXFORD/MINDEN PICTURES/CORBIS

Human beings are stewpots of microorganisms influenced by a variety of environmental perturbations to the detriment or enhancement of our health. Humans have penetrated and disturbed nearly all habitats on the planet and in their turn influence the symbioses and pathogens in the wild animals they encounter. For example, Amato et al. have discovered that the diversity, richness, and composition of the microbiota of Mexican black howler monkeys correlate with the quality of the habitat they inhabit (and eat). Monkeys living in habitats degraded by human activity have simplified microbiomes displaying fewer genes for butyrate production, implying an impact on the monkeys' overall health. In an another example of an anthropogenic perturbation, the health of zoo elephants has been compromised by an emerging, fatal, haemorrhagic herpesvirus disease, which Zachariah et al. report also affects working elephants in southern India. It seems that in this case the virus is endemic to Asia and has spread from this focus as humans have spread elephants around the world's zoos.

ISME J. 7, 10.1038/ismej.2013.16 (2013); J. Wildl. Dis. 49, 10.7589/2012-07-193 (2013).

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