By CARL ZIMMER
Published: April 20, 2011
New York Times
In the early 1900s, scientists discovered that each person belonged to one of four blood types. Now they have discovered a new way to classify humanity: by bacteria. Each human being is host to thousands of different species of microbes. Yet a group of scientists now report just three distinct ecosystems in the guts of people they have studied.
Blood type, meet bug type.
“It’s an important advance,” said Rob Knight, a biologist at the University of Colorado, who was not involved in the research. “It’s the first indication that human gut ecosystems may fall into distinct types.”
The researchers, led by Peer Bork of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany, found no link between what they called enterotypes and the ethnic background of the European, American and Japanese subjects they studied.
Nor could they find a connection to sex, weight, health or age. They are now exploring other explanations. One possibility is that the guts, or intestines, of infants are randomly colonized by different pioneering species of microbes.
The microbes alter the gut so that only certain species can follow them.