Microorganisms are everywhere. Because of their small size, they are often difficult to see, but you will be hard pressed to find a surface or fluid in nature that is not covered by or full of microorganisms. This includes our bodies, which are covered with so many microbes that they outnumber the cells in the human body by at least a factor of ten. These organisms constitute the human microbiome and may have a profound influence on our health.
Researchers of the human microbiome use several particular terms that are worth defining. The collection of microbes that live in a given environment are referred to as microbiota. Researchers thus refer to the microorganisms that live in and on the human body, which from the perspective of a microbe is just another environment, as the human microbiota. For any given environment, a microbiome consists of the microbiota, their genomes, and their environmental interactions.
Researchers of the human microbiome evaluate which organisms live in our bodies (who is there?), how their genomes influence the environment of the human body (what are they doing?), and how the human body conversely influences its microbiota (how are they changing?). This is a highly interdisciplinary field, borrowing from ecology, evolution, molecular biology, immunology, bioinformatics, and genetics.
This research field is rapidly progressing, with important findings being released almost weekly. Many of the recent observations suggest that we can improve our understanding of and influence on human health through an improved awareness of the human microbiome. In future posts, I’ll detail these findings more specifically.