What’s in your gut? Termites, for example

Science News has a fascinating short story, Gut bacteria reflect dietary differences, by Gwyneth Dickey, that highlights one of the ecological dimensions of ‘enculturation’ that I think some symbolic models of culture have a hard time grasping. It turns out that a Western diet produces a less-varied gut ecology in Italian children than was found in African children. Moreover, the old adage ‘you are what you eat’ could apply in a particularly interesting way to those who eat termites.

The original article, Impact of diet in shaping gut microbiota revealed by a comparative study in children from Europe (urban Florence) and rural Africa (Boulkiemde province, Burkina Faso), by Carlotta De Filippo and colleagues, is open access on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences website, so you should definitely surf over there if you find this interesting.

De Filippo and colleagues discuss the microbiome, the ‘complex consortium of trillions of microbes, whose collective genomes contain at least 100 times as many genes as our own eukaryote genome’ (see also Gill et al. 2006). This enormous, varied ecosystem in the gut, a symbiotic community, supplements human metabolic capabilities, provides a first line of defense against pathogens, modulates gastrointestinal development and even informs the configuration of the immune system (paraphrased from De Filippo et al. 2010).

Different gut ecologies brought about both by environmental factors and by food production techniques, dietary preferences, and even food handling practices are one way that human groups might inadvertently induce biological variation in our species, a subtle culture-biology link through the populations in our gastrointestinal tracts. Now De Filippo and colleagues has gone out and actually demonstrated this variation empirically, using high-throughput 16S rDNA sequencing and biochemical analyses of fecal microbiota.

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Scientopia – A New Platform for Scholarly Blogging

Lots of people are pointing to the new collection of blogs over at Scientopia.org, which came to life in part due to the problems over at ScienceBlogs. Scientopia is ad-free, and also explicitly about science:

Scientopia is a collective of people who write about science because they love to do so. It is a community, held together by mutual respect and operated by consensus, in which people can write, educate, discuss, and learn about science and the process of doing science. In this we explore the interplay between scientific issues and other parts of our lives with the shared goal of making science more accessible.

Scientopia has global categories in Brain & Behavior and in Humanities & Social Sciences, as well as other ones like environment & biology, medicine & pharma, and information & communication. No way (yet, I am hoping) to go directly to those categories – they are simply collections of relevant pieces right there on the front page of Scientopia blogs.

I particularly wanted to do a shout-out to the blog The Urban Ethnographer. It’s fabulous to see anthropology right there in the middle of Scientopia. Krystal D’Costa’s most recent post is Meeting Montauk: The Summer Trade, which takes us out to the eastern tip of Long Island to examine tourism, fishing, and life in a beautiful little town.

On the brain side we’ve got some favorites who’ve migrated over from ScienceBlogs. So Scicurious has her own blog now, Neurotic Physiology, with her most recent post being the irresistible What Is Sweeter Than Cocaine? DrugMonkey is also there, and is looking at the recent debate on synthetic marijuana.

Child’s Play is all about development and cognition, and their latest post is Don’t Bite: A Cognitive Primer, which examines delay of gratification with a focus in this post on cognitive control and neural architecture.

That, and more, over at Scientopia.