Summary: In the past several years, we have witnessed an increased interest in understanding the structure and function of the indigenous microbiota that inhabits the human body. It is hoped that this will yield novel insight into the role of these complex microbial communities in human health and disease. What is less appreciated is that this recent activity owes a great deal to the pioneering efforts of microbial ecologists who have been studying communities in non-host-associated environments. Interactions between environmental microbiologists and human microbiota researchers have already contributed to advances in our understanding of the human microbiome. We review the work that has led to these recent advances and illustrate some of the possible future directions for continued collaboration between these groups of researchers. We discuss how the application of ecological theory to the human-associated microbiota can lead us past descriptions of community structure and toward an understanding of the functions of the human microbiota. Such an approach may lead to a shift in the prevention and treatment of human diseases that involves conservation or restoration of the normal community structure and function of the host-associated microbiota.
The gut microbiota is amongst the most densely populated microbial ecosystem on earth. While the microbiome exerts numerous health beneficial functions, the high density of micro-organisms within this ecosystem also facilitates horizontal transfer of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) genes to potential pathogenic bacteria. Over the past decades antibiotic susceptibility testing of specific indicator bacteria from the microbiome, such as Escherichia coli, has been the method of choice in most studies. These studies have greatly enlarged our understanding on the prevalence and distribution of AMR and associated risk factors. Recent studies using (functional) metagenomics, however, highlighted the unappreciated diversity of AMR genes in the human microbiome and identified genes that had not been described previously. Next to metagenomics, more targeted approaches such as polymerase chain reaction for detection and quantification of AMR genes within a population are promising, in particular for large-scale epidemiological screening. Here we present an overview of the indigenous microbiota as a reservoir of AMR genes, the current knowledge on this “resistome” and the recent and upcoming advances in the molecular diagnostic approaches to unravel this reservoir.
antimicrobial resistance; resistome; metagenomics; gut microbiota; microbiome
Next-generation sequencing technologies have revolutionized the analysis of microbial communities in diverse environments, including the human body. This article reviews several aspects of one of these technologies, the pyrosequencing technique, including its principles, applications, and significant contribution to the study of the human microbiome, with especial emphasis on the oral microbiome. The results brought about by pyrosequencing studies have significantly contributed to refining and augmenting the knowledge of the community membership and structure in and on the human body in healthy and diseased conditions. Because most oral infectious diseases are currently regarded as biofilm-related polymicrobial infections, high-throughput sequencing technologies have the potential to disclose specific patterns related to health or disease. Further advances in technology hold the perspective to have important implications in terms of accurate diagnosis and more effective preventive and therapeutic measures for common oral diseases.
next-generation DNA sequencing; pyrosequencing; human microbiome; oral microbiome
Investigation of the lung microbiome is a relatively new field. Although the lungs were classically believed to be sterile, recently published investigations have identified microbial communities in the lungs of healthy humans. At the present time, there are significant methodologic and technical hurdles that must be addressed in ongoing investigations, including distinguishing the microbiota of the upper and lower respiratory tracts. However, characterization of the lung microbiome is likely to provide important pathogenic insights into cystic fibrosis, respiratory disease of the newborn, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and asthma. In addition to characterization of the lung microbiome, the microbiota of the gastrointestinal tract have profound influence on development and maintenance of lung immunity and inflammation. Further study of gastrointestinal-respiratory interactions are likely to yield important insights into the pathogenesis of pulmonary diseases, including asthma. As this field advances over the next several years, we anticipate that studies utilizing larger cohorts, multi-center designs, and longitudinal sampling will add to our knowledge and understanding of the lung microbiome.
Over the past decade researchers have begun to characterize viral diversity using metagenomic methods. These studies have shown that viruses, the majority of which infect bacteria (bacteriophages), are likely the most genetically diverse components of the biosphere. Here we briefly review the incipient rise of a phage biology renaissance catalyzed by recent advances in next generation sequencing. We explore how work characterizing phage diversity and their lifestyles in the gut is changing our view of ourselves as supra-organisms. Finally, we discuss how a new appreciation of phage dynamics may yield new applications for phage therapies designed to manipulate the structure and functions of our gut microbiomes.
Rapidly developing sequencing methods and analytical techniques are enhancing our ability to understand the human microbiome, and, indeed, how we define the microbiome and its constituents. In this review we highlight recent research that expands our ability to understand the human microbiome on different spatial and temporal scales, including daily timeseries datasets spanning months. Furthermore, we discuss emerging concepts related to defining operational taxonomic units, diversity indices, core versus transient microbiomes and the possibility of enterotypes. Additional advances in sequencing technology and in our understanding of the microbiome will provide exciting prospects for exploiting the microbiota for personalized medicine.
Purpose of review
The microbiome continues to demonstrate an important role in immune and metabolic programming. This review will focus on the mechanistic implications of recent findings for diabetes pathogenesis and treatment.
Multiple techniques are developing to specify the microbiome. At the same time, new insights have emerged into local interactions of microbial products with human development. New findings demonstrate that key bacteria and their products result in the programming of diabetes-modulating Th17 and regulatory T lymphocytes within and outside the intestine. The role of the bacterial metagenome in programming human metabolism has also revealed new insights. In turn, these findings suggest a framework in which the microbiome may be modified to change the course of diabetes.
The microbiome is a key regulator of metabolism and immunity. Specific bacteria and their secreted products are now known to program Th17 and regulatory T-cell development, which may change the course of diabetes. Bacterial genomics are demonstrating important, modifiable roles of bacterial gene products in metabolism. Further understanding of this symbiotic relationship will provide new avenues for intervention in diabetes.
diabetes; immunity; metabolism; microbiome; T regulatory cells; Th17
Metagenomics has become an indispensable tool for studying the diversity and metabolic potential of environmental microbes, whose bulk is as yet non-cultivable. Continual progress in next-generation sequencing allows for generating increasingly large metagenomes and studying multiple metagenomes over time or space. Recently, a new type of holistic ecosystem study has emerged that seeks to combine metagenomics with biodiversity, meta-expression and contextual data. Such ‘ecosystems biology’ approaches bear the potential to not only advance our understanding of environmental microbes to a new level but also impose challenges due to increasing data complexities, in particular with respect to bioinformatic post-processing. This mini review aims to address selected opportunities and challenges of modern metagenomics from a bioinformatics perspective and hopefully will serve as a useful resource for microbial ecologists and bioinformaticians alike.
16S rRNA biodiversity; binning; bioinformatics; Genomic Standards Consortium; metagenomics; next-generation sequencing
To analyze the vast number and variety of microorganisms inhabiting the human intestine, emerging metagenomic technologies are extremely powerful. The intestinal microbes are taxonomically complex and constitute an ecologically dynamic community (microbiota) that has long been believed to possess a strong impact on human physiology. Furthermore, they are heavily involved in the maturation and proliferation of human intestinal cells, helping to maintain their homeostasis and can be causative of various diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease and obesity. A simplified animal model system has provided the mechanistic basis for the molecular interactions that occur at the interface between such microbes and host intestinal epithelia. Through metagenomic analysis, it is now possible to comprehensively explore the genetic nature of the intestinal microbiome, the mutually interacting system comprising the host cells and the residing microbial community. The human microbiome project was recently launched as an international collaborative research effort to further promote this newly developing field and to pave the way to a new frontier of human biology, which will provide new strategies for the maintenance of human health.
microbiome; microbiota; gut; metagenomics
Recent advances in molecular technique have now made it possible to interrogate the human microbiome in depth to better understand the interactions with the host organism and its role in diseases. We now report the utility of using Length Heterogeneity Polymerase Chain Reaction (LH-PCR) to survey samples and a proprietary Multitagged Pyrosequencing (MTPS) methodology to interrogate the gut microbiome in healthy and disease states. We present an overview of our studies demonstrating that the application of these molecular biology techniques to an example disease state such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). The findings show that there is a core mucosal bacterial microbiome (i.e. a mucosal biofilm) that is distinct from the luminal microbiome in health and that the mucosal microbiome appears to be dysbiotic in IBD. We propose that the mucosal microbiome forms a synergistic and stable interaction with the host immune system, while the lumen microbiome varies based on diet or other environmental factors. We define this composite ecosystem of the human microbiome and human host as the Human Metabiome.
Over the last two decades, advanced molecular genetics technology has enabled analysis of complex microbial communities and the study of microbial genomics. Interest has grown in characterizing the microbiome, defined as a collective microbial community and its extensive genome, as a clue to disease mechanisms. “The Human Microbiome Project,” sponsored by the NIH Common Fund, was established to characterize the pathology-associated human microbiome in nasal passages, oral cavities, skin, the gastrointestinal tract, and the urogenital compartment. In particular, characterization of urogenital microbiota may elucidate etiologies of complex obstetrical syndromes and factors in fetal development that define risk for pathology in adulthood. This article summarizes recent findings defining the microbiome associated with the female urogenital compartment in child-bearing age women. We also describe our analysis of microbiome samples from the oral, vaginal, and rectal compartments in a cohort of pregnant women. Findings present technical considerations in the characterization of microbial diversity and composition associated with gestational diabetes as a model pregnancy-associated pathology.
Micro-organisms; microbiology; microbiota; microbiome; metagenome; gynecology; obstetrics
In this commentary, we will review some of the early efforts aimed at understanding the role of the enteric microbiota in the causality of inflammatory bowel diseases. By examining these studies and drawing on our own experiences bridging clinical gastroenterology and microbial ecology as part of the NIH-funded Human Microbiome Project (Turnbaugh et al., 2007), we hope to help define some of the “growing pains” that have hampered these initial efforts. It is our sincere hope that this discussion will help advance future efforts in this area by identifying current challenges and limitations and by suggesting strategies to overcome these obstacles.
inflammatory bowel diseases; human enteric microbiome; microbial dysbiosis; microbial ecology; new generation DNA sequencing
Purpose of review
The indigenous gut microbiota has been shown to be a key player in maintaining gastrointestinal homeostasis. This review discusses some of the recent work that reveals how the gut microbiome helps establish and protect intestinal health and how disturbances in this microbial community can lead to disease states.
The use of culture-independent methods has greatly improved our ability to determine the structure and function of the gut microbiome. The gut microbiota has critical interactions with the host immune system and metabolism with bilateral influences shaping both the host and the microbiome. Alterations in the gut microbiome are associated with a variety of disease states but we are only now beginning to understand the mechanisms by which this occurs.
Understanding how the gut microbiome contributes to intestinal health should lead to novel preventative strategies and therapies for a variety of gastrointestinal conditions.
Microbiome; host-microbe interactions; microbiota
Analysis of human body microbial diversity is fundamental to understanding community structure, biology and ecology. The National Institutes of Health Human Microbiome Project (HMP) has provided an unprecedented opportunity to examine microbial diversity within and across body habitats and individuals through pyrosequencing-based profiling of 16 S rRNA gene sequences (16 S) from habits of the oral, skin, distal gut, and vaginal body regions from over 200 healthy individuals enabling the application of statistical techniques. In this study, two approaches were applied to elucidate the nature and extent of human microbiome diversity. First, bootstrap and parametric curve fitting techniques were evaluated to estimate the maximum number of unique taxa, Smax, and taxa discovery rate for habitats across individuals. Next, our results demonstrated that the variation of diversity within low abundant taxa across habitats and individuals was not sufficiently quantified with standard ecological diversity indices. This impact from low abundant taxa motivated us to introduce a novel rank-based diversity measure, the Tail statistic, (“τ”), based on the standard deviation of the rank abundance curve if made symmetric by reflection around the most abundant taxon. Due to τ’s greater sensitivity to low abundant taxa, its application to diversity estimation of taxonomic units using taxonomic dependent and independent methods revealed a greater range of values recovered between individuals versus body habitats, and different patterns of diversity within habitats. The greatest range of τ values within and across individuals was found in stool, which also exhibited the most undiscovered taxa. Oral and skin habitats revealed variable diversity patterns, while vaginal habitats were consistently the least diverse. Collectively, these results demonstrate the importance, and motivate the introduction, of several visualization and analysis methods tuned specifically for next-generation sequence data, further revealing that low abundant taxa serve as an important reservoir of genetic diversity in the human microbiome.
Recent explorations of the human gut microbiota suggest that perturbations of microbial communities may increase predisposition to different disease phenotypes. Dietary nutrients may be converted into metabolites by intestinal microbes that serve as biologically active molecules affecting regulatory functions in the host. Probiotics may restore the composition of the gut microbiome and introduce beneficial functions to gut microbial communities, resulting in amelioration or prevention of gut inflammation and other intestinal or systemic disease phenotypes. This review describes how diet and intestinal luminal conversion by gut microbes play a role in shaping the structure and function of intestinal microbial communities. Proposed mechanisms of probiosis include alterations of composition and function of the human gut microbiome, and corresponding effects on immunity and neurobiology.
diet; gut microbiota; immunomodulation; Lactobacillus; nervous system; probiotics
The human genome has been referred to as the blueprint of human biology. In this review we consider an essential but largely ignored overlay to that blueprint, the human microbiome, which is composed of those microbes that live in and on our bodies. The human microbiome is a source of genetic diversity, a modifier of disease, an essential component of immunity, and a functional entity that influences metabolism and modulates drug interactions. Characterization and analysis of the human microbiome have been greatly catalyzed by advances in genomic technologies. We discuss how these technologies have shaped this emerging field of study and advanced our understanding of the human microbiome. We also identify future challenges, many of which are common to human genetic studies, and predict that in the future, analyzing genetic variation and risk of human disease will sometimes necessitate the integration of human and microbial genomic data sets.
bacteria; microbiota; metagenomics; 16S rRNA
Interactions between microbial species are sometimes mediated by the exchange of small molecules, secreted by one species and metabolized by another. Both one-way (commensal) and two-way (mutualistic) interactions may contribute to complex networks of interdependencies. Understanding these interactions constitutes an open challenge in microbial ecology, with applications ranging from the human microbiome to environmental sustainability. In parallel to natural communities, it is possible to explore interactions in artificial microbial ecosystems, e.g. pairs of genetically engineered mutualistic strains. Here we computationally generate artificial microbial ecosystems without re-engineering the microbes themselves, but rather by predicting their growth on appropriately designed media. We use genome-scale stoichiometric models of metabolism to identify media that can sustain growth for a pair of species, but fail to do so for one or both individual species, thereby inducing putative symbiotic interactions. We first tested our approach on two previously studied mutualistic pairs, and on a pair of highly curated model organisms, showing that our algorithms successfully recapitulate known interactions, robustly predict new ones, and provide novel insight on exchanged molecules. We then applied our method to all possible pairs of seven microbial species, and found that it is always possible to identify putative media that induce commensalism or mutualism. Our analysis also suggests that symbiotic interactions may arise more readily through environmental fluctuations than genetic modifications. We envision that our approach will help generate microbe-microbe interaction maps useful for understanding microbial consortia dynamics and evolution, and for exploring the full potential of natural metabolic pathways for metabolic engineering applications.
Microbial metabolism affects biogeochemical cycles and human health. In most natural environments, multiple microbial species interact with each other, forming complex ecosystems whose properties are poorly understood. In an effort to understand inter-microbial interactions, and to explore new metabolic engineering avenues, researchers have started building artificial microbial ecosystems, e.g. pairs of genetically engineered strains that require each other for survival. Here we computationally explore the possibility of creating artificial microbial ecosystems without re-engineering the microbes themselves, but rather by manipulating the environment in which they grow. Specifically, using the framework of flux balance analysis, we predict environments in which either one or both microbes in a pair would not be able to grow without the other, inducing commensal (one-way) or mutualistic (two-way) interactions, respectively. Our algorithms can successfully recapitulate known inter-microbial interactions, and predict millions of new ones across any pair amongst different microbial species. Surprisingly, we find that it is always possible to identify conditions that induce mutualistic or commensal interactions between any two species. Hence, our method should help in mapping naturally occurring microbe-microbe interactions, and in engineering new ones through a novel, environment-driven branch of synthetic ecology.
Our genetic landscape is a summation of the genes embedded in our human genome and in the genomes of our microbial symbionts (the microbiome). Similarly, our metabolic features (metabotypes) are an amalgamation of human and microbial traits. Therefore, understanding of the range of human genetic and metabolic diversity means that we must characterize our microbiomes, which contain at least several hundred-fold more genes than our human genome, as well as the factors that influence the properties of our microbial communities (microbiota). The results should provide an additional perspective about contemporary human biology as we assess how our changing lifestyles, cultural norms, socioeconomic status, and biosphere are influencing our microbial ecology and health status. I will discuss the results of our group's ongoing metagenomic studies of the interrelationships between diet and the structure and dynamic operations of the human gut microbiome. We believe that understanding these interrelationships is important for advancing our appreciation of the nutritional value of food ingredients, for creating new nutritional guidelines for humans at various stages of their lifespan, and for developing new ways to deliberately manipulate the properties of the gut microbiota to prevent or treat various diseases. We have developed a translational medicine pipeline that involves metagenomic analyses of the gut microbial communities of adult mono- and dizygotic twins living in the USA who are lean, or concordant or discordant for obesity, and twins aged 0–3 years living in developing countries who develop normally, or who become malnourished and are treated with a ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF). Intact fecal communities from these individuals, or ‘personal’ culture collections that capture the majority of bacterial diversity in their microbiota, are then transplanted into germ-free mice, which are fed the diets of the human donors, or systematically manipulated derivatives of these diets. The impact of diet and microbiota on these humanized mice, including the degree to which the human donor's physiologic/metabolic phenotypes can be transmitted to gnotobiotic animals via microbiota transplants, are then studied using a variety of methods.
Our understanding of the vastcollection of microbes that live on and inside us (microbiota) and their collective genes (microbiome) has been revolutionized by culture-independent ‘metagenomic’ techniques and DNA sequencing technologies. Most of our microbe lives in our gut, where they function as a metabolic organ and provide attributes not encoded in our human genome. Metagenomic studies are revealing shared and distinctive features of microbial communities inhabiting different humans. A central question in psychiatry is the relative role of genes and environment in shaping behavior. The human microbiome serves as the interface between our genes and our history of environmental exposures: explorations of our microbiomes thus offer new insight into our neurodevelopment, behavioral phenotypes, and perhaps disorders, such as depression, by affecting complex processes like cognition, personality, mood, sleep and eating. Better understanding of microbiome-encoded pathways for xenobiotic metabolism also has important implications for improving the efficacy of pharmacologic interventions with neuromodulatory agents.
Higher brain function; human microbial ecology; gut microbiome; metabolism; autism; pharmacology
The recent era of exploring the human microbiome has provided valuable information on microbial inhabitants, beneficials and pathogens. Screening efforts based on DNA sequencing identified thousands of bacterial lineages associated with human skin but provided only incomplete and crude information on Archaea. Here, we report for the first time the quantification and visualization of Archaea from human skin. Based on 16 S rRNA gene copies Archaea comprised up to 4.2% of the prokaryotic skin microbiome. Most of the gene signatures analyzed belonged to the Thaumarchaeota, a group of Archaea we also found in hospitals and clean room facilities. The metabolic potential for ammonia oxidation of the skin-associated Archaea was supported by the successful detection of thaumarchaeal amoA genes in human skin samples. However, the activity and possible interaction with human epithelial cells of these associated Archaea remains an open question. Nevertheless, in this study we provide evidence that Archaea are part of the human skin microbiome and discuss their potential for ammonia turnover on human skin.
In healthy humans, many microbial consortia constitute rich ecosystems with dozens to hundreds of species, finely tuned to functions relevant to human health. Medical interventions, lifestyle changes, and the normal rhythms of life sometimes upset the balance in microbial ecosystems, facilitating pathogen invasions or causing other clinically relevant problems. Some diseases, such as bacterial vaginosis, have exactly this sort of community etiology. Mathematical network theory is ideal for studying the ecological networks of interacting species that comprise the human microbiome. Theoretical networks require little consortia specific data to provide insight into both normal and disturbed microbial community functions, but it is easy to incorporate additional empirical data as it becomes available. We argue that understanding some diseases, such as bacterial vaginosis, requires a shift of focus from individual bacteria to (mathematical) networks of interacting populations, and that known emergent properties of these networks will provide insights that would be otherwise elusive.
Continued advances in human microbiome research and technologies raise a number of ethical, legal, and social challenges. These challenges are associated not only with the conduct of the research, but also with broader implications, such as the production and distribution of commercial products promising maintenance or restoration of good physical health and disease prevention. In this article, we document several ethical, legal, and social challenges associated with the commercialization of human microbiome research, focusing particularly on how this research is mobilized within economic markets for new public health uses.
We conducted in-depth, semi-structured interviews (2009–2010) with 63 scientists, researchers, and National Institutes of Health project leaders (“investigators”) involved with human microbiome research. Interviews explored a range of ethical, legal, and social dimensions of human microbiome research, including investigators’ perspectives on commercialization. Using thematic content analysis, we identified and analyzed emergent themes and patterns.
Investigators discussed the commercialization of human microbiome research in terms of (1) commercialization, probiotics, and issues of safety, (2) public awareness of the benefits and risks of dietary supplements, and (3) regulation.
The prevailing theme of ethical, legal, social concern focused on the need to find a balance between the marketplace, scientific research, and the public’s health. The themes we identified are intended to serve as points for discussions about the relationship between scientific research and the manufacture and distribution of over-the-counter dietary supplements in the United States.
Commercialization; Human microbiome; Ethical legal and social implications (ELSI); Dietary supplements; Qualitative research
In this review we address the subject of dental caries pathogenicity from a genomic and metagenomic perspective. The application of genomic technologies is certain to yield novel insights into the relationship between the bacterial flora, dental health and disease. Three primary attributes of bacterial species are thought to have direct impact on caries development, these include: adherence on tooth surfaces (biofilm formation), acid production and acid tolerance. Attempts to define the specific aetiological agents of dental caries have proven to be elusive, supporting the notion that caries aetiology is perhaps complex and multi-faceted. The recently introduced Human Microbiome Project (HMP) that endeavors to characterise the micro-organisms living in and on the human body is likely to shed new light on these questions and improve our understanding of polymicrobial disease, microbial ecology in the oral cavity and provide new avenues for therapeutic and molecular diagnostics developments.
Caries; biofilm; bacterial species; genomic; metagenomic; Human Microbiome Project
Among vertebrate gastrointestinal microbiome studies, complete representation of taxa is limited, particularly among reptiles. Here, we provide evidence for previously unrecognized host-microbiome associations along the gastrointestinal tract from the American alligator, a crown archosaur with shared ancestry to extinct taxa, including dinosaurs. Microbiome compositional variations reveal that the digestive system consists of multiple, longitudinally heterogeneous microbiomes that strongly correlate to specific gastrointestinal tract organs, regardless of rearing histories or feeding status. A core alligator gut microbiome comprised of Fusobacteria, but depleted in Bacteroidetes and Proteobacteria common to mammalians, is compositionally unique from other vertebrate gut microbiomes, including other reptiles, fish, and herbivorous and carnivorous mammals. As such, modern alligator gut microbiomes advance our understanding of archosaur gut microbiome evolution, particularly if conserved host ecology has retained archosaur-specific symbioses over geologic time.
Interest in the role of the microbiome in human health has burgeoned over the past decade with the advent of new technologies for interrogating complex microbial communities. The large-scale dynamics of the microbiome can be described by many of the tools and observations used in the study of population ecology. Deciphering the metagenome and its aggregate genetic information also can be used to understand the functional properties of the microbial community. Both the microbiome and metagenome probably have important functions in health and disease; their exploration is a frontier in human genetics.