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Translating our microbiome into medicine

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Integrating contemporary microbiology with new sequencing technologies will allow us to better understand our microbiome and its relationships with health and disease

We live in a microbial world. We are surrounded by and in contact with microbes that support many natural and managed processes, from carbon capture by microalgae to support marine food webs, to the fermentations that produce beverages and foods that we consume and enjoy. Nor is our body a sterile environment, either inside or out. While it has long been recognised that animals, including humans, are colonised soon after birth (or hatching), changes in our perceptions of the human microbiota have arisen over the past decade via the step advances made in DNA and RNA amplification methods, sequencing technologies and computational biology — what has been referred as the “omics” era of research. All these approaches support an assessment of the microbial world without first having to culture microbes in a laboratory setting, and the capacity to characterise both the structure and function of entire microbial communities from real-world samples.

During the past decade, initiatives in North America, Europe and China have been at the forefront of providing a genomic-based characterisation of our microbiota — this is generically referred to as our microbiome, with the term “microbiota” restricted to the viable state.1