The human microbiome is a bit of a buzzword in wellness circles, referring to the trillions of symbiotic microbial cells harbored within the body. The microbiota in each individual microbiome can contribute to healthy or unhealthy physical function. In other words, the bacteria in your body can affect everything from digestion and cognition to behavior. In an effort to better understand the human microbiome, scientists are expanding their research to explore other species’ microbiomes. Take cats, for example. As cats are a popular pet and companion species, the cat microbiome can have far-reaching implications for the human microbiome.
What the Cat Microbiome Can Tell Us About Human Health
The “Kittybiome” Project
To understand the connection between the human microbiome and the cat microbiome, scientists first turned to a surprising study subject: the household litterbox. They used a Kickstarter community project aptly named “Kittybiome.” Led by several researchers including Holly Ganz of UC Davis, this project dug into microbial presence in cat waste, using DNA sequencing technologies to explore the feline microbiome. To participate, interested cat owners sent samples of their cats’ feces, which researchers used to sequence feline microbiome DNA. Researchers also sequenced DNA from shelter cats, leopards, pumas, lions, and cheetahs to form a more holistic picture.
Unique Bacteria and Feline Health
As Popular Science reports, the researchers at the Kittybiome project worked off of existing knowledge about the human microbiome’s effect on temperament, digestion, immunity, and several other key health factors. Then they used advanced DNA sequencing techniques to explore feline digestive systems. Like in human microbe sequencing, DNA was first prepared to standard concentrations using PCR before being sequenced for bacterial identification. As biotechnology resource GoldBio reports, Kittybiome’s process included a specialized Illumina MiSeq platform to target specific DNA before identifying bacterial taxa.
Using the Cat Microbiome in Veterinary Treatment
The resulting data proved that, like humans, cats display vastly unique microbial representation. This can vary based on diet, breed, and indoor or outdoor living situations. Fortunately, Kittybiome’s data is already serving the medical community. For example, a new treatment for feline diarrhea is underway. Microbiotic supplements to promote effective digestion in cats are also in development.
How the Cat Microbiome Affects Humans
The more we understand feline microbiota, the better we can assess human systems. As we know, both humans and cats need a wide variety of microbial groups for effective immune and digestive systems. But interestingly enough, the presence of a housecat can actually impact the human microbiome. As Kittybiome researchers explain, cats carry different bacteria and fungi than humans do. Exposure to those bacteria and fungi can actually stimulate human immune systems, particularly in infants and children. For example, one study from researchers at the University of Alberta in Canada found that children exposed to furry pets in early life experienced significant increases in two beneficial gut bacteria.
Researchers are still working to identify additional effects of the cat microbiome on human systems. However, early study results prove promising for both veterinary and general human medicine.
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