Microbiome research surrounding the Yanomami took center stage after a study by Clemente, et al., was published in 2015. The study claimed that the gut bacteria of one remote Yanomami community had the highest diversity seen in any human group. The villagers were never exposed to the negative effects of a western lifestyle and decreased microbiota diversity. A microbial imbalance, or dysbiosis, is linked to an array of ailments and non-communicable diseases (e.g. irritable bowl syndrome, diabetes, obesity, etc.). It is assumed that these non-communicable diseases essentially do not exist among isolated or minimally impacted Yanomami communities. With the rise in rate of transculturation and adoption of western lifestyles among the Yanomami, the race is on to study and protect their biological legacy before it is lost forever.
The Good Project supports a study titled "Estudio del microbioma en sujetos amerindios y mestizos para evaluar los parámetros de salud, dieta yactividad física" [Study of micriobiome in Amerindians and Mestizos in order to evaluate their parameters of health, diet and physical activity] coordinated by the Venezuelan Institute of Scientific Research. A major goal of this research is to characterize and compare the microbiome of Yanomami communities along an "urbanization"gradient" (i.e. how microbial diversity changes when communities are more impacted from westernization). Closing the knowledge gap in the link between the microbiome and human health takes us one step closer to understanding disease and health. This important research not only benefits humanity across the globe, but helps us understand the unintended consequences of transculturation among the Yanomami and the important measures needed to protect their robust microbiome and traditional lifestyles.
Research among the Yanomami has had a checkered past. The history of scientists violating ethical codes of conduct left a lasting scar for many Yanomami communities (for more information refer to Robert Borofsky's Yanomami: The Fierce Controversy and What We Can Learn from It). Many Yanomami leaders are still angry and deeply suspicious of scientists. Transparent dialogue is a beginning step for confronting those past transgressions committed by scientists and researchers. Our research team acknowledges their every right to be skeptical and indifferent. Spending as much time as needed to hold discussions and answering all their questions allows us to develop a transparent, open, and honest relationship.
Ample time is dedicated towards explaining the background on the link between health and the microbiome. Visual tools were used to help explain the microbiome and it how it is unique to the Yanomami. We explain why this research it is important to their health and well-being. Demonstrations are carried out to simulate the sampling process and explain how the instruments are used and what they measure. The team lectures on the various public health practices that can protect them from contracting infectious diseases.
The Yanomami people are integral in carrying out the research protocols. They become part of the research team participating as translators, guides, and research assistants. The team always answers their questions and concerns while encouraging them to participate. Teaching them how to use various instruments such as the glucometers, microscopes, and blood pressure cuffs helps to create a deeper understanding of our research goals and develops an atmosphere of inclusivity and collaboration.
Given the rise of incidents in introduced diseases and public health challenges, there is a great responsibility to provide aid for the Yanomami communities. Medicines and supplies are brought in and distributed under the supervision of the medical doctor. Medical clinics are held to tend to the sick and wounded. This strengthens the relationship with the community showing them we care for their health and well-being .