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How useful is social distancing?
Animals also benefit from distance or a reduction in contacts when it comes to protecting themselves from spreading diseases. This was made clear in a recent study on marmosets and shows how useful it can be to distance yourself from other people in times of Corona.
The research team led by Eva C. Wikberg from the University of Texas at San Antonio investigated the impact of interactions between social groups of colobus monkeys (Colobus vellerosus) on the intestinal microbiome of the animals, and also on the effects of distance treatment to protect against diseases won. The results of the study were published in the English-language journal Animal Behavior.
How can the spread of microbes be prevented?
Microorganisms that live in and on our body play a crucial role in maintaining our health and in the development of diseases. The current study has now made it clear how the microorganisms are passed on between individuals and what effect physical distance has in this regard.
Study carried out on wild monkeys
For their study, the researchers observed monkeys in the wild. They wanted to understand the role genetics, nutrition, social groups and distance play in a social network when it comes to the microbes that are in an animal's intestine.
“The social transmission of microbes among monkeys can help tell us how diseases spread. This has parallels with our current situation in which we are trying to understand how social distancing during the COVID 19 pandemic and future outbreaks can affect disease transmission, ”said Professor Eva Wikberg of the University of Texas at San Antonio in a press release.
What role does our gut microbiome play?
The gut microbiome refers to all the microorganisms that populate the digestive tract, starting with the stomach and ending with the colon. In the past ten years, the microbiome has become a focus of science because it is believed that an unhealthy gut microbiome can lead to obesity, immune function impairment, weakened parasite resistance, and even behavior changes.
Challenges in microbiome research
Research into microbiomes is difficult, however, because the microbial composition varies from individual to individual. A long-asked question is whether this variation is due to the genetic makeup, the diet or the social environment. Such research in wild populations is particularly difficult because of the lack of detailed data necessary to distinguish the myriad of factors that make up the microbiome.
Faeces from 45 female monkeys were examined
For their investigation, the researchers analyzed the faeces of 45 female colobus monkeys, which gathered in eight different social groups in a small forest. In this way, large differences between the gut microbiomes of the social groups could be identified.
Transmission of gut microbes
Individuals from different groups who were more socially related had more similar gut microbes. This discovery suggests that microbes can be transmitted in occasional encounters with members of other social groups, the researchers explain. The situation could be similar if, for example, people were in close proximity to other people in stores or accidentally touched someone else.
The wild animal study can help to better understand the importance of using social distancing to ensure the safety of society in times of COVID-19. (as)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
- Eva C. Wikberg, Diana Christie, Pascale Sicotte, Nelson Ting: Interactions between social groups of colobus monkeys (Colobus vellerosus) explain similarities in their gut microbiomes, in Animal Behavior (Published Volume 163, May 2020, Pages 17-31), Animal Behavior
- Research shows even animals in the wild benefit from physical distancing to prevent disease, University of Texas at San Antonio (Published May 7, 2020), University of Texas at San Antonio