Diversity and evolution of the primate skin microbiome

Skin microbes play a role in human body odour, health and disease. Compared with gut microbes, we know little about the changes in the composition of skin microbes in response to evolutionary changes in hosts, or more recent behavioural and cultural changes in humans. No studies have used sequence-based approaches to consider the skin microbe communities of gorillas and chimpanzees, for example. Comparison of the microbial associates of non-human primates with those of humans offers unique insights into both the ancient and modern features of our skin-associated microbes. Here we describe the microbes found on the skin of humans, chimpanzees, gorillas, rhesus macaques and baboons. We focus on the bacterial and archaeal residents in the axilla using high-throughput sequencing of the 16S rRNA gene. We find that human skin microbial communities are unique relative to those of other primates, in terms of both their diversity and their composition. These differences appear to reflect both ancient shifts during millions of years of primate evolution and more recent changes due to modern hygiene.