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Human Microbiome Role in Health and Obesity

  • Published: 2014-01-10 (Revised/Updated 2018-04-01) : Author: American Society for Microbiology : Contact: Jim Sliwa - jsliwa@asmusa.org - Ph. 202-942-9297
  • Synopsis: Report answers questions about the human microbiome, the collection of trillions of microbes living in and on the human body, and its role in health.

Quote: "Scientists are experiencing startling insights into the role that microorganisms play, not only in disease, but more importantly in our health and well-being"

Main Document

The human microbiome, the collection of trillions of microbes living in and on the human body, is not random, and scientists believe that it plays a role in many basic life processes.

The ecological community of commensal, symbiotic, and pathogenic microorganisms that share our body space. Many scientific articles distinguish "microbiome" and "microbiota" to describe either the collective genomes of the microorganisms that reside in an environmental niche or the microorganisms themselves, respectively. However by the original definitions these terms are largely synonymous.

The human microbiome (or human microbiota) is the aggregate of microorganisms, a microbiome that resides on the surface and in deep layers of skin, in the saliva and oral mucosa, in the conjunctiva, and in the gastrointestinal tracts. They include bacteria, fungi, and archaea. There is a strengthening consensus among evolutionary biologists that one should not separate an organism's genes from the context of its resident microbes.

A new report from the American Academy of Microbiology addresses some of the most common questions about this growing area of research.

The report, entitled FAQ: Human Microbiome is based on the deliberations of 13 of the nation's leading experts who met to develop clear answers to frequently asked questions regarding the human microbiome and its role in human health.

Some of the questions considered by the report are:

"Scientists are experiencing startling insights into the role that microorganisms play, not only in disease, but more importantly in our health and well-being," says Lita Proctor of the National Human Genome Research Institute, a member of the steering committee of the report. Proctor is also Program Director for the Human Microbiome Project, an 8-year undertaking by the National Institutes of Health to identify and characterize the microorganisms which are found in association with both healthy and diseased humans.

Researchers have long known that bacteria reside on and within the human body, but traditional microbiology has typically focused on the study of individual species as isolated, culturable units. Recent advances in DNA sequencing technologies and other molecular techniques have allowed for more comprehensive examination of these microbes as communities that have evolved intimate relationships with their hosts over millions of years.

Scientists now recognize that the microbiome may be responsible for a broad variety of metabolic and developmental processes from food digestion to vitamin synthesis, and even brain function.

The report also includes sections highlighting the role of the microbiome in human conditions such as obesity and inflammatory bowel disease, and offers some general tips on what can be done to maintain a healthy microbiome.

"The American Academy of Microbiology has produced a creative and informative resource on the human microbiome for a wide audience which describes the beauty and complexity of the human microbiome, the insults we may be causing our microbiomes as a result of common practices in our modern societies, why we now need to include the microbiome when considering human health, and the future research directions for this emerging field which combines medicine, ecology and evolution," says Proctor.

FAQ:

Human Microbiome is the latest offering in a series of reports designed to provide a rapid response to emerging issues or to highlight the role of microbes in daily life.

Previous FAQ reports have covered topics like the role of microorganisms in cleaning up oil spills and the central role of yeast in the production of beer.

A copy of the report can be found online at bit.ly/1hm2pj2

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