The human microbiota as a marker for migrations of individuals and populations

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30 Scopus citations


In this review, we discuss evidence that the microbes that constitute the human microbiota coevolved with humans and maintain complex community and host interactions. Because these microbes are mostly vertically transmitted, they have evolved within each human group and provide a view of human ancestry. In particular, we discuss using Helicobacter pylori as a marker of ancestry and migrations. Other organisms with more mixed vertical and horizontal transmission are not suitable to trace migrations with any fidelity. Human mixing affects microbial phylogeographic signals, and lifestyles impact the human microbiome population structure. A decade after the human genome was sequenced, we are gaining insights into the population structure of the human microbiome. We also examine whether, rather than focus on the genetics of single microbial populations, a wider approach to the study of human ancestry based on the human microbiome is now possible.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)451-474
Number of pages24
JournalAnnual Review of Anthropology
StatePublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


  • H. pylori
  • Human migrations
  • Microbiome
  • Migration
  • Phylogeography
  • Physical anthropology


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