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mSphere. 2017 Sep 27;2(5). pii: e00327-17. doi: 10.1128/mSphere.00327-17. eCollection 2017 Sep-Oct.

The Gut Microbiota of Healthy Aged Chinese Is Similar to That of the Healthy Young.

Bian G1, Gloor GB1,2,3, Gong A1, Jia C1, Zhang W4, Hu J5, Zhang H6, Zhang Y7, Zhou Z8, Zhang J9, Burton JP1,3,10, Reid G1,3,10, Xiao Y1, Zeng Q11, Yang K1,3,12,13,14, Li J1.

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Tianyi Health Sciences Institute (Zhenjiang) Co., Ltd., Zhenjiang, Jiangsu, China.
Departments of Biochemistry and of Applied Mathematics, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada.
Lawson Health Research Institute, London, Ontario, Canada.
Department of Gastroenterology, Affiliated Hospital of Jiangsu University, Zhenjiang, China.
Department of Orthopedics, Lanzhou Military General Hospital, Lanzhou, Gansu, China.
Gansu Provincial People's Armed Police Corps Hospital, Lanzhou, Gansu, China.
School of Public Health, Peking University, Beijing, China.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Taicang, Jiangsu, China.
Wenci Hospital, Rugao, Jiangsu, China.
Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada.
Health Management Institute, Chinese PLA General Hospital, Beijing, China.
Children's Health Research Institute, London, Ontario, Canada.
Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada.
Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada.


The microbiota of the aged is variously described as being more or less diverse than that of younger cohorts, but the comparison groups used and the definitions of the aged population differ between experiments. The differences are often described by null hypothesis statistical tests, which are notoriously irreproducible when dealing with large multivariate samples. We collected and examined the gut microbiota of a cross-sectional cohort of more than 1,000 very healthy Chinese individuals who spanned ages from 3 to over 100 years. The analysis of 16S rRNA gene sequencing results used a compositional data analysis paradigm coupled with measures of effect size, where ordination, differential abundance, and correlation can be explored and analyzed in a unified and reproducible framework. Our analysis showed several surprising results compared to other cohorts. First, the overall microbiota composition of the healthy aged group was similar to that of people decades younger. Second, the major differences between groups in the gut microbiota profiles were found before age 20. Third, the gut microbiota differed little between individuals from the ages of 30 to >100. Fourth, the gut microbiota of males appeared to be more variable than that of females. Taken together, the present findings suggest that the microbiota of the healthy aged in this cross-sectional study differ little from that of the healthy young in the same population, although the minor variations that do exist depend upon the comparison cohort. IMPORTANCE We report the large-scale use of compositional data analysis to establish a baseline microbiota composition in an extremely healthy cohort of the Chinese population. This baseline will serve for comparison for future cohorts with chronic or acute disease. In addition to the expected difference in the microbiota of children and adults, we found that the microbiota of the elderly in this population was similar in almost all respects to that of healthy people in the same population who are scores of years younger. We speculate that this similarity is a consequence of an active healthy lifestyle and diet, although cause and effect cannot be ascribed in this (or any other) cross-sectional design. One surprising result was that the gut microbiota of persons in their 20s was distinct from those of other age cohorts, and this result was replicated, suggesting that it is a reproducible finding and distinct from those of other populations.


16S rRNA gene sequencing; DNA sequencing; compositional data; cross-sectional study; gut microbiota; healthy aging; microbiota

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