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Microbiome Research: From Niche to Prominence and Challenging Perceptions


Over the past two decades, Microbiome Research has evolved from a niche subject to a prominent and highly discussed field in science. It primarily focuses on studying microbial interactions and activities within the human gut. Recent assessments have revealed the intricate complexity of the human microbiome, challenging some previously widely accepted notions.


GS III: Science

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Understanding Microbiome
  2. Myths Surrounding Microbiome in Human Body

Understanding Microbiome

Microbiome Definition:

  • The microbiome refers to the community of microorganisms, including fungi, bacteria, and viruses, residing in a specific environment.
  • In humans, it commonly refers to microorganisms living on or in various body parts, influenced by factors like diet, exercise, medications, and environmental exposures.

Myths Surrounding Microbiome in Human Body:

The Age of the Field:
  • Misconception: Microbiome Research is a recent field.
  • Reality: Scientists discussed the benefits of gut bacteria like Escherichia coli and Bifidobacteria as far back as the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The Question of Origin:
  • Misconception: Joshua Lederberg is solely credited with popularizing the term “microbiome” in 2001.
  • Reality: The term was used in 1988 to describe microbial communities.
The Number and Mass of Microbes:
  • Misconception: The human microbiome weighs 1-2 kg.
  • Reality: The weight is approximately 200 grams, and microbial cells in feces number around 10^10 to 10^12 per gram.
From Mother to Child:
  • Misconception: Mothers pass their microbiomes to children at birth.
  • Reality: Only a fraction of microbes is directly transferred during birth, and each adult develops a unique microbiota.
Microbes are Dangerous:
  • Misconception: Microbial interactions with our cells always lead to diseases.
  • Reality: Whether a microbe is beneficial or harmful depends on the context, and some microbes coexist without causing harm.
The Firmicutes-Bacteroidetes Ratio:
  • Misconception: Obesity is linked to the Firmicutes-Bacteroidetes ratio.
  • Reality: Broad phylum-level ratios do not provide meaningful insights into health or disease.
Functionality and Redundancy of Microbes:
  • Misconception: All microbes in the microbiome have redundant functions.
  • Reality: Different species within the microbiome perform unique and essential functions.
Bias in Sequencing:
  • Misconception: Microbiome sequencing is entirely unbiased.
  • Reality: Biases can be introduced at various stages of sequencing, influencing results.
Standardized Methods in Microbiome Research:
  • Misconception: Standardized methods are infallible.
  • Reality: While important for comparisons, all methods have limitations that must be acknowledged.
Culturing the Microbiome:
  • Misconception: Microbes from the human microbiome are mostly unculturable.
  • Reality: Gaps in culture collections are due to a lack of previous effort rather than inherent ‘unculturability.’

-Source: Down To Earth

December 2023