Comparative precision nutrition: is there a meal to feed them all?

Living organisms must eat to survive and reproduce. But to what extent their dietary needs are species-specific? It turns out, they are not...
Comparative precision nutrition: is there a meal to feed them all?

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The clock strikes 2pm. You have been sitting in a meeting, perhaps online, since 11am. You are starving. You mute yourself so that other participants are not able to hear the growling noises that your stomach is making in protest to the hunger strike you have unwillingly undertaken since your breakfast at 7am. All you can think of is lunch. If only you could eat something, anything!

We all experience such moments where you are so hungry that you could eat anything that remotely resembles food. Animals do it too – in fact, nutrition is key for the survival of all living organisms [1]. Intuitively, we know that different animals eat different foods and for humans in particular, there are almost an infinite array of dietary interventions, from paleo [2],  carnivore [3], vegan and vegetarian [4] and some unusual ones, such as the cotton ball diet [5] (do not attempt this at home!). 

It is not surprising that research has focused on producing accurate personalized dietary guidelines to ensure health, given the increasing burden of nutrition-related disorders such as obesity over the last decades [6]. However, personalized nutrition has focused attention on incorporating genetics and lifestyle, but overlooked a fundamental yet powerful aspect of nutrition: the shared ancestry between populations and species. 

A study published this month in the premiere journal Aging Cell showed that optimum ratio of protein and carbohydrates in the diet that maximize lifespan are shared among insect species that share evolutionary ancestry (Fig 1) [7]. This was true for both males and females.

Fig 1

The study also found that the optimum ratio of protein and carbohydrate that maximize lifespan for each sex differ, leading to the potential of a conflict between males and females of each species to eat a balanced diet that maximize their lifespan but with negative effects on the lifespan on the opposite sex [7]. The strength of this tug-of-war also appears to be shared among species with shared evolutionary ancestry.

By showing that evolutionary history shapes animal nutritional needs, this study is the first of its kind in the field of comparative precision nutrition. This opens up new avenues of research, and makes us rethink the way in which models aimed at achieving personalized nutrition should be built.

We now have evidence that, to be accurate, models aimed at predicting nutritional needs for personalized dietary guidelines must take into account how different groups, populations, and species evolve, and how evolution has shaped common physiological pathways to cope with dietary (im)balances. 

Dr Juliano Morimoto, author of the study

The author of the study, Dr Juliano Morimoto, a Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Mathematics at the University of Aberdeen, is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).


[1] Simpson, S. J., & Raubenheimer, D. (2012). The nature of nutrition: a unifying framework from animal adaptation to human obesity. Princeton university press.

[2] Cambeses-Franco, C., González-García, S., Feijoo, G., & Moreira, M. T. (2021). Is the Paleo diet safe for health and the environment?. Science of The Total Environment, 781, 146717.

[3] O’Hearn, A. (2020). Can a carnivore diet provide all essential nutrients?. Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Obesity, 27(5), 312-316.

[4] Key, T. J., Appleby, P. N., & Rosell, M. S. (2006). Health effects of vegetarian and vegan diets. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 65(1), 35-41.


[6] Barrea, L., Annunziata, G., Bordoni, L., Muscogiuri, G., Colao, A., Savastano, S., & Obesity Programs of Nutrition, Education, Research and Assessment (OPERA) Group. (2020). Nutrigenetics—personalized nutrition in obesity and cardiovascular diseases. International journal of obesity supplements, 10(1), 1-13.

[7] Morimoto, J. (2023). Optimum ratio of dietary protein and carbohydrate that maximises lifespan is shared among related insect species. Aging Cell, 00, e14067.

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Life Sciences > Health Sciences > Health Care > Nutrition
Evolutionary Biology
Life Sciences > Biological Sciences > Evolutionary Biology
Machine Learning
Mathematics and Computing > Computer Science > Artificial Intelligence > Machine Learning
Life Sciences > Biological Sciences > Zoology > Invertebrate Zoology > Entomology