Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

BMC Microbiology





First page number:


Last page number:



Background Termites are an important food resource for many human populations around the world, and are a good supply of nutrients. The fungus-farming ‘higher’ termite members of Macrotermitinae are also consumed by modern great apes and are implicated as critical dietary resources for early hominins. While the chemical nutritional composition of edible termites is well known, their microbiomes are unexplored in the context of human health. Here we sequenced the V4 region of the 16S rRNA gene of gut microbiota extracted from the whole intestinal tract of two Macrotermes sp. soldiers collected from the Limpopo region of South Africa. Results Major and minor soldier subcastes of M. falciger exhibit consistent differences in taxonomic representation, and are variable in microbial presence and abundance patterns when compared to another edible but less preferred species, M. natalensis. Subcaste differences include alternate patterns in sulfate-reducing bacteria and methanogenic Euryarchaeota abundance, and differences in abundance between Alistipes and Ruminococcaceae. M. falciger minor soldiers and M. natalensissoldiers have similar microbial profiles, likely from close proximity to the termite worker castes, particularly during foraging and fungus garden cultivation. Compared with previously published termite and cockroach gut microbiome data, the taxonomic representation was generally split between termites that directly digest lignocellulose and humic substrates and those that consume a more distilled form of nutrition as with the omnivorous cockroaches and fungus-farming termites. Lastly, to determine if edible termites may point to a shared reservoir for rare bacterial taxa found in the gut microbiome of humans, we focused on the genus Treponema. The majority of Treponemasequences from edible termite gut microbiota most closely relate to species recovered from other termites or from environmental samples, except for one novel OTU strain, which clustered separately with Treponema found in hunter-gatherer human groups. Conclusions Macrotermes consumed by humans display special gut microbial arrangements that are atypical for a lignocellulose digesting invertebrate, but are instead suited to the simplified nutrition in the fungus-farmer diet. Our work brings to light the particular termite microbiome features that should be explored further as avenues in human health, agricultural sustainability, and evolutionary research.


Entomophagy, Termite; Gut microbiome; Human diet; Other faunivory; Human evolution; Macrotermitinae; Macrotermes; Termitomyces; Treponema


Bacteriology | Entomology | Evolution | Population Biology

File Format


File Size

3.059 KB



Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

UNLV article access

Search your library