Mapping gastrointestinal gene expression patterns in wild primates and humans via fecal RNA-seq

Ashok Kumar Sharma, Barbora Pafčo, Klára Vlčková, Barbora Červená, Jakub Kreisinger, Samuel Davison, Karen Beeri, Terence Fuh, Steven R. Leigh, Michael B. Burns, Ran Blekhman, Klára J. Petrželková, Andres Gomez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Limited accessibility to intestinal epithelial tissue in wild animals and humans makes it challenging to study patterns of intestinal gene regulation, and hence to monitor physiological status and health in field conditions. To explore solutions to this limitation, we have used a noninvasive approach via fecal RNA-seq, for the quantification of gene expression markers in gastrointestinal cells of free-range primates and a forager human population. Thus, a combination of poly(A) mRNA enrichment and rRNA depletion methods was used in tandem with RNA-seq to quantify and compare gastrointestinal gene expression patterns in fecal samples of wild Gorilla gorilla gorilla (n = 9) and BaAka hunter-gatherers (n = 10) from The Dzanga Sangha Protected Areas, Central African Republic.

RESULTS: Although only a small fraction (< 4.9%) of intestinal mRNA signals was recovered, the data was sufficient to detect significant functional differences between gorillas and humans, at the gene and pathway levels. These intestinal gene expression differences were specifically associated with metabolic and immune functions. Additionally, non-host RNA-seq reads were used to gain preliminary insights on the subjects' dietary habits, intestinal microbiomes, and infection prevalence, via identification of fungi, nematode, arthropod and plant RNA.

CONCLUSIONS: Overall, the results suggest that fecal RNA-seq, targeting gastrointestinal epithelial cells can be used to evaluate primate intestinal physiology and gut gene regulation, in samples obtained in challenging conditions in situ. The approach used herein may be useful to obtain information on primate intestinal health, while revealing preliminary insights into foraging ecology, microbiome, and diet.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number493
JournalBMC Genomics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 14 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
the Ministry of Education.

Funding Information:
The Leakey foundation (San Francisco, CA) and The Czech-American Scientific cooperation - by project number (LH15175) supported from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports of The Czech Republic provided funding for this project. Apart from providing funds, they were not involved in the study design, data analyses, interpretation, or manuscript writing.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Author(s).


  • Gene expression
  • Nonhuman primate
  • Noninvasive method
  • RNA-seq

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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