Humans and baboons (Papio spp.) share considerable anatomical and physiological similarities in their reproductive tracts. Given the similarities, it is reasonable to expect that the normal vaginal microbial composition (microbiota) of baboons would be similar to that of humans. We have used a 16S rRNA phylogenetic approach to assess the composition of the baboon vaginal microbiota in a set of nine animals from a captive facility and six from the wild. Results show that although Gram-positive bacteria dominate in baboons as they do in humans, there are major differences between the vaginal microbiota of baboons and that of humans. In contrast to humans, the species of Gram-positive bacteria (Firmicutes) were taxa other than Lactobacillus species. In addition, some groups of Gram-negative bacteria that are not normally abundant in humans were found in the baboon samples. A further level of difference was also seen even within the same bacterial phylogenetic group, as baboon strains tended to be more phylogenetically distinct from human strains than human strains were with each other. Finally, results of our analysis suggests that co-evolution of microbes and their hosts cannot account for the major differences between the microbiota of baboons and that of humans because divergences between the major bacterial genera were too ancient to have occurred since primates evolved. Instead, the primate vaginal tracts appear to have acquired discrete subsets of bacteria from the vast diversity of bacteria available in the environment and established a community responsive to and compatible with host species physiology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-126
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican journal of primatology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2011


  • 16S rRNA analysis
  • Non-human primates
  • Vaginal microbiota

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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