Research into Irish Travellers’ microbiomes could help treat gut disorders

21 Jul 2022

Image: © Artur/

APC research suggests Irish Travellers have beneficial differences in their gut microbiome, which could be impacted if they change to a settled lifestyle.

A new study indicates that the gut microbiome of Irish Travellers differs from that of the settled community and could offer insights into treating chronic inflammatory disorders.

The research was published by APC Microbiome Ireland, the Science Foundation Ireland research centre based at University College Cork and Teagasc. A video summarising the findings was launched today (21 July) at Cork City Hall as part of Traveller Pride Week.

The study, published in Nature Medicine, suggests that members of the Traveller community retain a ‘non-industrialised’ type of microbiome, which could offer protection from disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease.

The researchers noted that the lifestyle of many Irish Travellers changed with legislation in the early 2000s that “effectively ended nomadism and altered their living conditions”.

“Our findings suggest there are microbiome-related public health implications when ethnic minorities are pressured to change lifestyles,” the researchers said.

The research involved collaboration with the Traveller Visibility Group (TVG) and Travellers of North Cork. The findings are significant for the community as it reinforces the formal recognition in 2017 that Travellers are a distinct ethnic group within Ireland.

“The microbiome research has confirmed what we always knew, we need to preserve the traditional Traveller lifestyle as it is essential for the health and wellness of our community,” said TVG director of advocacy Breda O’Donoghue.

“We can see from the research that once a Traveller adapts to a settled lifestyle their microbiome is negatively affected.”

It is also hoped that the findings can help address challenges in treating chronic gut disorders.

The study’s principal investigator, Prof Fergus Shanahan, said that in his “long career as a gastroenterologist”, he never encountered a member of the Traveller community with inflammatory bowel disease.

“Further investigation can help us leverage the microbiome in finding a solution for inflammatory bowel disease, which affects 40,000 people in Ireland and 10m globally every year,” Shanahan said.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic