Analysis of the human microbiome reveals you are (at least related to) what you eat, in a manner of speaking

Science3Understanding microbial symbioses, and more specifically how the human microbiome affects our health, is currently a hot topic in the land of microbiology and metagenomics. The most recent special edition of Science focuses on reviews and articles centered on understanding the fundamental relationships between us and our most closely associated microbes.

Ever think that that group of people who thinks milk chocolate >> dark chocolate was a little special, well turns out they might be different for more than just that obvious reason. Some recent studies just out today have revealed that variation in the human microbiome can also be linked to differences in other food preferences.

Falony et al., 2016 / Figure 5. Drug interactions in the FGFP

Still, while we have a long way to go before we understand the significance in the variance of microbial communities a couple of articles just released in Science are some of the most extensive studies published to date on the human microbiome. The overarching goal of these impressive analyses was to try to understand what’s up with the microbes living in the large intestines of healthy individuals.

One of the studies by Falony et al., (2016) included a survey of 3,948 northern Europeans, and presents a wealth of data demonstrating that we have a long way to go before we unravel the secrets that our microbiota want to tell us…or at least what their genomes have say. All of this data might someday lead us to figuring out how we can enhance our own health by switching stuff up with our gut microbes, or how different drugs might affect different people (depending on microbial community composition).

Zhernakova et al., 2016 / Figure 2. Interindividual variation of microbial composition and function profile

There are so many variables to account for (different genetic backgrounds, ages, diets, not to mention when samples are taken post meal time…) that there’s a long way before we have a completely exhaustive dataset (is that even possible to attain??), which might be essential to figuring out health-linked stuff related to our microbiome. The other study by Zhernakova et al., (2016) looked at 1,135 Dutch individuals also demonstrated that there’s a lot we don’t know, since diversity in only 19% of the variation in the microbiome could be explained.

All of this data has led us to a bit of a chicken vs. egg situation, how much of our microbiome is influenced by genetics? or our diet? One thing is clear, affordable next-generation sequencing and the relatively recent understanding of just how essential the role our microbiome is in relation to our health will ensure that we’ll be studying our own bugs for many years to come.


ALEXANDRA ZHERNAKOVA, ALEXANDER KURILSHIKOV, MARC JAN BONDER, ETTJE F. TIGCHELAAR, MELANIE SCHIRMER, TOMMI VATANEN, et al. Population-based metagenomics analysis reveals markers for gut microbiome composition and diversity. Science. 352: 6285 (2016): 565-569. DOI: 10.1126/science.aad3369
 GWEN FALONY, MARIE JOOSSENS, SARA VIEIRA-SILVA, JUN WANG, YOUSSEF DARZI, KAROLINE FAUST, et al. Population-level analysis of gut microbiome variation. Science. 352: 6285 (2016): 560-564. DOI: 10.1126/science.aad3503



About Kelle Freel

I'm currently a postdoc working at the Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology with Dr. Mike Rappé. I'm interested in the biogeography and ecology of microbes, especially of the marine variety. After studying a unique genus of marine bacteria at Scripps Oceanography in grad school, I moved to France, where I worked with a group studying yeast population genomics. In my free time, I like to do outdoorsy stuff, travel, and cook.
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