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Science News: The uniqueness of the human microbiome

– G.A., Senior Editor

Although we tend to think of ourselves as individual members of the Homo sapiens species, our bodies are home to countless other species, such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses, that in many cases are essential to life. The collective genome of all the organisms residing both on and inside our bodies is referred to as our microbiome and is gaining the attention of scientists in various fields.

As our microbiome is thought to influence our health, researchers have become interested in cataloging the species we carry with us. To date, related research has sought to identify the types of bacteria that inhabit our bodies. However, a recent study focused on the genes that make up the various microbial species and strains that are present in our bodies.

In the largest such study to date, the researchers compiled genetic information from DNA samples of bacteria that reside both in the human mouth and gut. The authors have created an online open access repository of all the genetic data in their database. The genetic diversity in this database is surprising. The authors found that approximately 50% of the genes included in the database are unique to a single individual host. This suggests that each person’s microbiome is as individual as a fingerprint.

Given our limited understanding of the human microbiome and its effects on human health, the release of the collected data in an open access repository should increase the speed at which dedicated scientists can begin to understand its startling complexity. It is expected that once clear links between our microbiome and specific diseases are established, it will be possible to develop microbiome therapies for personalized medicine.

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