Mammals house a diversity of bacteria that affect health in various ways, but the routes by which bacterial lineages are transmitted between hosts remain poorly understood. We experimentally determined microbiota transmission modes by deriving 17 inbred mouse lines from two wild populations and monitoring their gut microbiotas for up to 11 host generations. Individual- and population-level microbiota compositions were maintained within mouse lines throughout the experiment, indicating predominantly vertical inheritance of the microbiota. However, certain bacterial taxa tended to be exchanged horizontally between mouse lines. Consistent with evolutionary theory, the degree of horizontal transmission predicted bacterial genera with pathogenic representatives responsible for human infections and hospitalizations.
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