Growing old like crocodiles

– April 11, 2023

Your health and your microbiome are closely linked. Reptiles may be able to teach us how their microbiome helps slow down the aging process and also help humans to age as healthy as possible.

Aging with your microbiome

Health and the gut microbiome go hand in hand. In fact, 400 BC, Hippocrates apparently said: "bad digestion is the root of all evil" and "death sits in the bowels." The composition of the microbiome of your gut develops as you age and is influenced by many factors. These include your genetic predisposition, your diet, as well as environmental factors, pathogens and the use of medications. As you age, the microbes you carry with you are constantly changing and this affects your health. Therefore, research is being done on different methods to adjust the microbiome. For example, how pre- and probiotics can be used to improve the health and life expectancy.

Learning from living fossils

Because our health greatly influcend by aging, much research is done on this topic and especially on ways to reduce the negetive health effects. For example, we can learn a lot from animal species that live a lot longer than humans. After all, humans have only been walking the Earth for a relatively short time, while animals such as crocodiles can be considered "living fossils." After all, reptiles have been around for over 310-320 million years (while Homo sapiens have only been around for 280-350 thousand years) and have "survived" various mass extinctions, even in brutal conditions such as radiation.  Because most of the immune system is found in the digestive system, the microbiome of reptiles is thought to contribute to their survival success.

Croc's microbiome

Reptiles therefore have a very "successful" microbiome. Researchers have shown that the unique microbiome of reptiles (such as crocodiles) contributes to the production of antimicrobials: substances that can kill potential pathogens. As a result, the microbiome strengthens the immune system of these animals. Not only that, the reptile microbiome might even thwart cancer: substances made by bacteria in the microbiome of saltwater crocodiles can antagonize various cancer cells. Furthermore, it appears that the microbiome of reptiles can slow or even nearly stop the aging process. The role of substances made by bacteria from this microbiome requires further investigation. This discovery may one day allow humans to become as healthy and old as crocodiles.