What is the Microbiome?
As DNA sequencing methods continue to develop and continue to become more powerful, scientists are unleashing that power in their research on the interactions of the human microbiota and its effects on human health and development. But what is the microbiome?... or is it microbiota?
First, it is important to distinguish between these two terms: microbiome vs microbiota. The microbiome is characterized as the genomes of the bacteria, archaea, and fungi collectively that reside in a specific environment such as the human body. The microbiota is characterized as the collection of the bacteria, archaea, and fungi themselves. So, using the power of next-generation sequencing, we can gain a greater insight into the human microbiota by investigating the microbiome through metagenome sequencing methods.
Most often when we encounter research involving the keyword microbiome, we are most often reading through an article focusing on the human microbiome. More specifically, human microbiome research often times is investigating the microbiota of the human gastrointestinal tract. However, it is important to remember that while microbiome research does involve the interplay between microbes and the human body, there are a variety of hosts that are affected by their microbiota e.g. animals and plants. Whether you are studying the microbiome of humans, plant, animals, or any other naturally occurring environment, there are a few sequencing methods at your disposal in order to complete your studies: Shotgun Metagenome Sequencing and 16s rRNA Sequencing. Both of these sequencing methods have their advantages and disadvantages which are discussed on our FAQs page, but it is important to understand that microbiome studies can be completed with a variety of sequencing methods.
Why is sequencing the Human Microbiome so popular?
Until fairly recently, there was little information regarding the bacteria, archaea, and eukaryotes living in and on the human body. This is surprising considering the fact that the number of microbial cells in and on the human body outnumber human cells 10:1. In 2007, the National Institutes of Health initiated the Human Microbiome Project with the goal of expanding our knowledge on the human microbiome and its impact on our health and overall quality of life. Through the resources and research generated as a result of the Human Microbiome Project, the scientific community now knows how diverse the human microbiome can be, not only between individuals, but also between body sites. Surprisingly, while the diversity of the human genome between individuals is less than 1%, there is no shared human microbiome.
As more and more research into the human microbiome is being published, researchers are beginning to understand the potential affects the human microbiome may have on our health and wellness. From the microbes living on the surface of our skin to those living in our bowels, there have been links drawn between site-specific microbiomes and specific pathologies. Some of the most recent studies have discovered a relationship between the human microbiome and more common diseases such as psoriasis and rheumatoid arthristis to less common and more life-threatening diseases such as colon cancer and Alzheimer's. As the cost of 16s rRNA sequencing and Shotgun metagenome sequencing continue to become more affordable, the greater the opportunity for researchers to shed light on the affects of the human microbiome and a great number of other disease that remain somewhat of a mystery to the scientific world.