Scientists have for decades recognized that the human body is more microbe than human. Large and diverse communities of bacteria, viruses, and other microscopic life inhabit not just our intestines, but our mouths, our skin, and our genitals. Even places once thought to be sterile, such as the eyes and lungs, are now known to host microbial life.

See “How the Microbiome Influences Drug Action

Using metagenomic sequencing approaches, researchers have thoroughly documented microbial ecosystems throughout the body, and have begun to link variation in them with various aspects of human health. Most recently, work in this area has started to fill in the story of how certain microbes interact with the molecular processes of their hosts to bring about the physiological changes scientists have observed.

Here, The Scientist takes a look at some 
of those developments...

Gut Microbes May 
Play a Role in Mental 
Health Disorders

By Ashley Yeager
The gut microbiome has been linked 
to depression, schizophrenia, and
other neurological conditions,
but it’s not yet clear whether 
the relationship is causal.

Men with High HIV Risk 
Have Unique Gut Microbes, Inflammation: Study

By Chia-Yi Hou
The microbiomes of men who 
have sex with men are associated
with greater immune system 
activation and promote elevated 
rates of viral infection in vitro. 

Could Manipulating 
the Microbiome Treat 
Food Allergies?

By Jef Akst
As evidence grows that gut 
bacteria play roles in the 
development and persistence of 
food allergies, researchers begin 
to explore microbe-based interventions.

The Gut Microbiome Can 
Be a Boon or a Bane for Cardiovascular Health

By Shawna Williams
Researchers seek to untangle the 
biological mechanisms linking 
resident microbes to our hearts—
and to harness them therapeutically.

Bone and the Microbiome 
Have a Brittle 

By Kerry Grens
Animal studies and a few small 
clinical trials show it’s possible 
to get commensal microbes to 
protect against bone loss, 
rather than contribute to it.

Does the Microbiome 
Help the Body Fight Cancer?

By Catherine Offord
Research in mice and humans 
is beginning to establish a link 
between the composition of 
microbes in the gut and immune 
responses to tumor cells, but 
the mechanisms are not yet clear.

Related stories

How the Microbiome Influences Drug Action

Through their effects on metabolism and immunity, bacteria in the gut affect whether medications will be effective for a given patient.

Do Commensal Microbes Stoke the Fire of Autoimmunity?

Molecules produced by resident bacteria and their hosts may signal immune cells to attack the body’s own tissues.

Microbe Miner: A Profile of Rob Knight

Developing computational tools to analyze the reams of microbial sequencing data his lab generates, the UC San Diego microbiologist is a pioneer of microbiome research.

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