Aashish Jha, PhD is an incoming Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology at New York University Abu Dhabi. He uses genomics to decipher human population histories and microbiomes. Some of his recent work looks at the human gut (intestine), which contains a diverse community of bacteria. This bacterial community changes rapidly in response to diet and environment.
Many indigenous communities across Nepal who have historically foraged for food in the forests or grown their own food —are undergoing rapid lifestyle changes, including the Tharu, Raute, Raji and Chepang communities. Aashish has characterized the gut microbiota of these four communities, to investigate whether shifts from traditional lifestyles have resulted in changes in their gut bacteria. The results of his studies demonstrate that changes in their gut microbiome strongly reflect their divergence from their traditional foraging lifestyles. Many of the bacteria that differ across lifestyles are diet dependent but they also demonstrated that environmental factors, such as sources of drinking water, are strongly associated with the gut microbiome in Nepali populations.
How is large-scale gut microbiome reconfiguration impacting the health of the indigenous populations? What kind of scientific evidence and archival records make indigenous claims about the past possible? What do we accept to be evidence and what do we not? What is the role of other forms of knowledge that fall outside the western scientific framework?