Spatial and temporal variability in the human microbiome
Rob Knight, University of Colorado

Elucidating the biogeography of bacterial communities on the human body is critical for establishing healthy baselines from which to detect differences associated with diseases. To obtain an integrated view of the spatial and temporal distribution of the human microbiota, we surveyed bacteria from up to 27 sites in seven to nine healthy adults on four occasions. We found that community composition was determined primarily by body habitat. Within habitats, interpersonal variability was high, whereas individuals exhibited minimal temporal variability. Several skin locations harbored more diverse communities than the gut and mouth, and skin locations differed in their community assembly patterns. These results indicate that our microbiota, although personalized, varies systematically across body habitats and time; such trends may ultimately reveal how microbiome changes cause or prevent disease.

Using such studies of the human microbiome and other microbial communities as a starting point, I will discuss how deep sequencing, and in particular metagenomics and metatranscriptomics, are transforming our ability to perform proteomics on previously uncharacterized communities, and to relate changes in the microbiota to clinical parameters such as obesity or the ability to metabolize specific drugs. The analysis of “multi-omics” datasets will provide a new dimension to our ability to understand the complex interactions between our bodies and our microbial symbionts that pervade many aspects of health and disease.

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