Trillions of microorganisms inhabit the human gut and are regarded as potential key factors for health1,2. Characteristics such as diet, lifestyle, or genetics can shape the composition of the gut microbiota2,3,4,5,6 and are usually shared by individuals from comparable ethnic origin. So far, most studies assessing how ethnicity relates to the intestinal microbiota compared small groups living at separate geographical locations7,8,9,10. Using fecal 16S ribosomal RNA gene sequencing in 2,084 participants of the Healthy Life in an Urban Setting (HELIUS) study11,12, we show that individuals living in the same city tend to share similar gut microbiota characteristics with others of their ethnic background. Ethnicity contributed to explain the interindividual dissimilarities in gut microbiota composition, with three main poles primarily characterized by operational taxonomic units (OTUs) classified as Prevotella (Moroccans, Turks, Ghanaians), Bacteroides (African Surinamese, South-Asian Surinamese), and Clostridiales (Dutch). The Dutch exhibited the greatest gut microbiota α-diversity and the South-Asian Surinamese the smallest, with corresponding enrichment or depletion in numerous OTUs. Ethnic differences in α-diversity and interindividual dissimilarities were independent of metabolic health and only partly explained by ethnic-related characteristics including sociodemographic, lifestyle, or diet factors. Hence, the ethnic origin of individuals may be an important factor to consider in microbiome research and its potential future applications in ethnic-diverse societies.
Access optionsAccess options
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $18.75 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
The authors thank R. Jakubowicz and M. Krämer for DNA extraction, PCR amplification, and sequencing. The HELIUS study is conducted by the AMC Amsterdam and the Public Health Service of Amsterdam. Both organizations provided core support for HELIUS. The HELIUS study is also funded by the Dutch Heart Foundation, the Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development (ZonMw), the European Union (FP-7), and the European Fund for the Integration of non-EU immigrants (EIF). We gratefully acknowledge the AMC Biobank for their support in biobank management and high-quality storage of collected samples. We are most grateful to the participants of the HELIUS study and the management team, research nurses, interviewers, research assistants and other staff who have taken part in gathering the data of this study. The study reported here was additionally supported by Le Ducq consortium grant 17CVD01 to M. Nieuwdorp and F.B., JPI-HDHL MICRODIET consortium grant to M. Nieuwdorp and F.B., on which I.A. is appointed, and Novo Nordisk Foundation Gut-MMM grant to M. Nieuwdorp and F.B. M. Nieuwdorp is supported by a personal ZONMW-VIDI grant 2013 (016.146.327), on which G.J.B. is appointed, and a Dutch Heart Foundation CVON IN CONTROL Young Talent Grant 2013, on which A.P. is appointed. F.B. is Torsten Söderberg Professor in Medicine and recipient of a European Research Council Consolidator Grant (615362— METABASE). D.H.V.R. is supported by a junior fellowship of the Dutch Diabetes Foundation (2015.81.1840) and by a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions global fellowship (708193). The funders had no role in the study design, the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data, the writing of the report, and the decision to submit the article for publication.
About this article
Nature Medicine (2018)