Diversity of plant DNA in stool is linked to dietary quality, age, and household income

Brianna L. Petrone, Ammara Aqeel, Sharon Jiang, Heather K. Durand, Eric P. Dallow, Jessica R. McCann, Holly K. Dressman, Zhengzheng Hu, Christine B. Tenekjian, William S. Yancy, Pao Hwa Lin, Julia J. Scialla, Patrick C. Seed, John F. Rawlsa, Sarah C. Armstrong, June Stevens, Lawrence A. Davida*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Eating a varied diet is a central tenet of good nutrition. Here, we develop a molecular tool to quantify human dietary plant diversity by applying DNA metabarcoding with the chloroplast trnL-P6 marker to 1,029 fecal samples from 324 participants across two interventional feeding studies and three observational cohorts. The number of plant taxa per sample (plant metabarcoding richness or pMR) correlated with recorded intakes in interventional diets and with indices calculated from a food frequency questionnaire in typical diets (δ = 0.40 to 0.63). In adolescents unable to collect validated dietary survey data, trnL metabarcoding detected 111 plant taxa, with 86 consumed by more than one individual and four (wheat, chocolate, corn, and potato family) consumed by <70% of individuals. Adolescent pMR was associated with age and household income, replicating prior epidemiologic findings. Overall, trnL metabarcoding promises an objective and accurate measure of the number and types of plants consumed that is applicable to diverse human populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2304441120
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number27
StatePublished - 2023


  • diet quality
  • dietary assessment
  • food biodiversity
  • high-Throughput sequencing
  • nutrition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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