Ainara Sistiaga


Ainara Sistiaga is a spanish geoarchaeologist and organic geochemist with a background in human evolution. She graduated with a MA in Prehistory from the University of La Laguna and a MSc in Organic Chemistry by the Université de Rennes 1. In 2015 she obtained her PhD from Universidad de La Laguna on omnivory and human evolution, where she explored the use of lipid biomarkers to study the diet during the Paleolithic.

Since then, she has been a postdoc in MIT on the Summons Lab ( investigating lipids using combined mass spectrometric techniques. Ainara first joined the team as a NASA astrobiology postdoc investigating the paleonvironment of early human sites at Olduvai Gorge (, but she also participated in Mars analogue experiments for the Mars Science Laboratory. In 2017 her project “Mind the Gut” ( was awarded a MSCA-GF postdoctoral fellowship with MIT and the University of Copenhagen, where she will spend the third year of the fellowship. She is the co-founder of the Global Microbiome Conservancy (, a non-profit collaboration between scientists and communities around the world to collect and preserve the full biodiversity of human gut microbes for future generations.

Her current research interests include the study of the ancestral human microbiome using a multiomics approach, particularly by investigating lipids produced by bacteria in fecal matter. During the past years she has been studying the bacterial metabolism of cholesterol in the gut in human and primates.


My research is focused on exploiting the organic information trapped in the fossil samples, with particular emphasis in the microbial and paleodietary record. I perform my research between organic geochemistry and paleolithic archaeology to provide greater insight into the role of our microbial partners during human evolution. I am using lipids from the diet or produced by gut bacteria to help us in the understanding of the ancestral microbiome.

Within the MSCA project, MIND THE GUT, Ainara intends to better understand the role of our microbial partners during human evolution and to advance the study of the ancestral human microbiome by applying a multiomic approach (lipid biomarkers, faecal proteomes and DNA) to study different microbiome substrates: modern and mummified intestinal material, and reference faecal material.

To do so, MIND THE GUT is developing new markers of specific bacterial action applying lipidomic and proteomic tools to explore the diagenesis of microbiome substrates. We analyze the mummified microbiomes of the aboriginal Canary islanders. The Canary mummies represent a unique model system to study the impact of diet and lifestyle in populations that evolved isolated but shared their microbiome during the peopling of the islands. We will compare them with a group of naturally mummified bodies from Nubia that span a similar time period, and with modern microbiome samples from 3 African populations with different lifestyles. The results will provide a framework for future studies on fossil material and contribute to illuminate the role of the microbiome in overcoming the challenges of diet, environment and lifestyle changes that took place during human history and prehistory. Mind the Gut represents a stepping stone to the integration of the ancient microbiomes in the study of human evolution


Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Geobiology and Astrobiology Lab, EAPS

45 Carleton St. E25-647, 02139, Cambridge MA

p: (617)324-3951 e:

University of Copenhagen

Natural History Museum of Denmark

a: Sølvgade 83, Opg. S 1307 København K, Denmark