Significant human gut microbiome changes during adolescence suggest that microbial community evolution occurs throughout important developmental periods including the transition to college, a typical life phase of weight gain. In this observational longitudinal study of 139 college freshmen living in on-campus dormitories, we tracked changes in the gut microbiome via 16S amplicon sequencing and body weight across a single academic year. Participants were grouped by weight change categories of gain (WG), loss (WL), and maintenance (WM). Upon assessment of the community structure, unweighted and weighted UniFrac metrics revealed significant shifts with substantial variation explained by individual effects within weight change categories. Genera that positively contributed to these associations with weight change included Bacteroides, Blautia, and Bifidobacterium in WG participants and Prevotella and Faecalibacterium in WL and WM participants. Moreover, the Prevotella/Bacteroides ratio was significantly different by weight change category, with WL participants displaying an increased ratio. Importantly, these genera did not display co-dominance nor ease of transition between Prevotella- and Bacteroides-dominated states. We further assessed the overall taxonomic variation, noting the increased stability of the WL compared to the WG microbiome. Finally, we found 30 latent community structures within the microbiome with significant associations with waist circumference, sleep, and dietary factors, with alcohol consumption chief among them. Our findings highlight the high level of individual variation and the importance of initial gut microbiome community structure in college students during a period of major lifestyle changes. Further work is needed to confirm these findings and explore mechanistic relationships between gut microbes and weight change in free-living individuals.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Microbiology (medical)
- Infectious Diseases