Skip Navigation

OU Team Gets First Look at Gut Microbes of an American Indian Community

OU Public Affairs WebsiteOU homepagePublic Affairs homepage
Skip Side Navigation

OU Team Gets First Look at Gut Microbes of an American Indian Community



NORMAN — With no previous microbiome studies of American Indian tribes, a University of Oklahoma-led research team collaborated with the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes on a three-year study to establish a baseline of information related to the microbiome and American Indian health. The study confirmed that population-focused studies of the microbiome are much needed, particularly for under-represented groups, such as tribal populations.

Cecil M. Lewis, Jr., associate professor in the Department of Anthropology, OU College of Arts and Sciences, says many under-represented groups have pronounced health disparities. Several American Indian groups in Oklahoma, for example, have a high prevalence of obesity, diabetes and autoimmune disorders. These same disorders happen to be among the primary biomedical studies that have popularized human microbiome research.

“Populations, such as tribal communities, that may most benefit from future microbiome interventions are also among those underrepresented within microbiome studies. In some respects, this lack of representation results from the challenge of protecting participants within these historically disadvantaged communities, such as concerns over stigmatization. For three years, we collaborated with the Cheyenne and Arapaho to discuss these topics and identify common ground for the research process. This included discussions of our microbiome data,” says Lewis.

Notable about the microbiome study was the metabolite profile of the participants. This profile had features similar to those observed in clinical cases of inflammatory bowel disease. Inflammatory disorders are among the major health disparities observed within some American Indian groups, but the study was not designed to target people with inflammatory disorders. Thus, seeing this pattern in what was essentially a biodiversity study was surprising.

The information obtained from metabolites in combination with the metagenome data was particularly promising. Over 500 metabolites were characterized from all major metabolic pathways and compared to the associated metagenome. In this study, researchers observed biological connections between members of two specific bacterial families and certain metabolic pathways, which helps to build a bigger picture of the biological system that underlies microbiome variation.

“The difference in gut microbes of the American Indians may be the result of social practices and the built environment rather than specific connections to a person’s genetic ancestry. In other worlds, I don’t believe the microbiome pattern resulted from the genetics of the American Indian. It is likely related to the socioeconomic challenges and resource availability in these rural areas of Oklahoma,” says Lewis.

Given that there were clear microbiome differences between the Cheyenne and Arapaho participants living in rural Oklahoma, and non-native individuals living in the city of Norman, Oklahoma, Lewis believes that human microbiome research needs a larger human biological diversity project — one that characterizes microbiomes in a broad range of human practices, cultures and ethnicities. He maintains that such a project needs to be population/community focused and involve active recruitment of under-represented groups.

While such a project may include peoples from unique or extraordinary living conditions, such as hunter-gatherers within developing countries, he noted there was still much to do within his own backyard of Oklahoma. An article on this research has been published in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on December 3. This research was primarily supported by the National Institutes of Health. For more information about this research, contact Lewis at

Recent News

OU Student Receives Udall Scholarship

Daniel Hayden

NORMAN - University of Oklahoma honors student Daniel R. Hayden has been named a 2018 Udall Scholar. The Udall Foundation Scholarship recognizes undergraduate students who demonstrate a commitment to careers related to the environment or to Native American public policy or health care. Hayden is one of 50 nationwide selected for the honor. Read more

OU Professor to Receive IEEE Satellite Communications Technical Contribution Award

Mohammed Atiquzzaman

Mohammed Atiquzzaman, is the recipient of the prestigious Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Satellite Communications Technical Contribution Award for 2018. The annual award is given to an accomplished, senior-level researcher who has achieved outstanding results in satellite communications and recognizes excellent scientific contributions done by academia and industries. Atiquzzaman will receive the award at the IEEE International Conference on Communications in Kansas City, Missouri, May 20-24. Read more

OU Physicist Developing Quantum-Enhanced Sensors for Real-Life Applications

Albert Marino

A University of Oklahoma physicist, Alberto M. Marino, is developing quantum-enhanced sensors that could find their way into applications ranging from biomedical to chemical detection. In a new study, Marino’s team, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, demonstrates the ability of quantum states of light to enhance the sensitivities of state-of-the-art plasmonic sensors. The team presents the first implementation of a sensor with sensitivities considered state-of-the-art and shows how quantum-enhanced sensing can find its way into real-life applications. Read more

OU Class of 2018 Gift to Honor Borens

The Boren Green

NORMAN – The University of Oklahoma Class of 2018 will celebrate their time at OU through a dedicated green space that will add to OU’s national reputation as one of America’s most beautiful campuses. Located along Lindsey Street in front of the newly completed Residential Colleges, this year’s class gift will fund a picturesque lawn named The Boren Green. Read more

OU Students Receive National Security Education Program Award for International Study

The Boren Awards

NORMAN – University of Oklahoma senior James Ratcliff and OU junior Libby Trowbridge recently were selected as recipients of the prestigious Boren Award for International Study, sponsored by the National Security Education Program. Thirty-four OU students have received the award since the program began in 1994. Read more

OU-Led Research Team Accelerating Antibiotic Discovery

Zygurskaya and Rybenkov

NORMAN — University of Oklahoma professors, Helen Zgurskaya and Valentin Rybenkov, and team are addressing the challenge and critical need for new antibiotics that can fight infections caused by the multi-drug resistant bacterium, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, considered an urgent threat by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The OU team responded to a special request for applications from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, and received a five-year, $5.7 million grant to develop new, more effective approaches against Gram-negative bacteria that are protected by multi-drug efflux pumps and low-permeability membranes. Read more

News Archives

2017  | 2016  | 2015  | 2014  |  2013  

May 2018

April 2018

March 2018

For requests for past releases, please contact OU Public Affairs at (405) 325-1701 or