What is the microbiome?

The microbiome refers to the trillions of micro-organisms, and their gene products, which colonise or live on the human body. The bacteria which colonise the human gastro-intestinal tract – known as the gut microbiome – play an important role in health and disease.

The gut microbiome is a collection of around 2kg of bacteria and there are more microbial cells in the gut than in the entire human body. The volume of genetic information contained with these bacteria dwarfs that of their host – the gut microbiome is thought to consist of 500x more genes than the human genome itself.

All of this genetic information has function. Many of these genes are required for primary metabolic functions, survival and interaction with other organisms in the gut. However, crucially, many of them have functions within the human host itself.

How will it impact medicine?

The gut microbiome is commonly understood to influence gastro-intestinal diseases such as infectious diarrhoea.

However, gut bacteria can also impact diseases in remote locations of the body, through modulation of the human immune system, metabolism and even neurological function. This is not simply an ecological effect, it is an evolved functionality that allows bacteria to interact with and modulate the systems of the body.

Understanding and leveraging this functionality is crucial in delivering live biotherapeutics as treatments for diseases such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and autism.

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