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Genetics hold far more sway over the mouse microbiome than transient environmental exposures, researchers reported July 26 in Applied and Environmental Microbiology. The results appear to contradict previous studies in humans that have found environmental factors to be more influential than genetics, and they add to an ongoing dialogue in the microbiome research community over how much control we hold over the bacterial communities in our guts.

Hila Korach-Rechtman, a microbiologist at the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, set out to identify the microbes in mice that become a fixture in the gut after being introduced through the environment. “We really wanted to find these bacteria that can be transferred and remain in the host, even though they have different genetics,” she says.

Instead, the investigators found that environmental factors exert only temporary effects, much like probiotic supplements that only populate the gut with certain bacteria as long as they are taken.

The researchers arrived at their unexpected results after first analyzing the microbiomes of two distinct laboratory mouse strains, C57BL/6J and BALB/c. The scientists crossed the mice, which have black and white fur, respectively, to develop two groups of genetically similar gray offspring, some with a black mother and white father, and others with a white mother and black father. The scientists then compared the gut microbial composition of the hybrids to one another and to inbred C57BL/6J and BALB/c mice to see if the microbiota better aligned with their parents’ microbes or with their fellow hybrids’.

Studies in various species suggest that passing through the birth canal seeds newborns’ microbiomes with bacteria from their mothers, so the researchers expected to see certain microbes passed between mother and pup, regardless of their genetic backgrounds.

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