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Hunter-Gatherers of Namibia

Long-term diet-microbiome study among the San in Namibia. We will spend 9-12 months in eastern Namibia near the town of Tsumkwe (near Botswana border). Working with 4-5 San villages, we will study the current impact of diet on the gut microbiome. The study will also include working with several of the San villages to revert 100% back to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle for 30, 60 and 120 day periods. Detailed diet and environmental conditions will be monitored, and a full suite of samples (feces, skin and oral swabs, etc) will be collected and prepared for analysis. We will monitor the impact on the gut microbiome on seasonal changes in diet in a natural setting – something that has never been done. We will also have the opportunity to monitor high protein-fat diet from terrestrial versus aquatic resources and the role hygiene on the gut microbiome and innate and adaptive immune system.

Melon fruit, Ju/'Hoansi-San Living Museum, Tsumkwe Namibia. Human Food Project.The overall project provides a unique opportunity for researchers around the world to learn about the microbiome-disease-diet axis in a setting similar to that from which we all evolved and a great many of the San still live (albeit less and less so). We also have the opportunity to live among some very remote and minimally contacted groups as well. No antibiotics. No livestock. No agriculture. No western food. Natural births and extended breast feeding (2-3 yrs).

The importance of sampling and preserving microbial diversity from traditional groups in regions where the effects of globalization on diet and lifestyle are less profound will be important in determining if interventions may allow modulation of an individual’s so-called enterotype to improve health (and even of the concept of the core enterotypes hold up). However, worldwide diversity of microbial repertoire’s in these traditional communities is fast disappearing and if we ever hope to understand what a “normal” and truly “healthy” microbiome might look like, we will need to work with these minimally contacted groups to create a bio bank of stool samples before its lost forever.


  1. This looks like a really interesting study. I’m curious, though, what the San participants are getting out of it. If they have, in fact, preserved something that most of the rest of us have lost – something of potentially very high value (not only in terms of knowledge, but potentially monetary value as well) – then I very much hope that they will be adequately compensated for it. I have read encouraging things about San receiving royalties after one of their traditional plants was patented; hopefully they will similarly benefit from this project.

    • good question. however, our work is research – not commercial. we are not reproducing microbiota profiles or attempting to patent anything. please also note it’s against IRB rules to compensate.

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