Thousands of New Microbial Communities Identified in Largest Microbiome Study To-Date

Tip of the iceberg

The more we study the role of the microbiome in disease, the more we realize that this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more to learn!


A new study published in the prominent journal Nature shows that we are actively progressing in the right direction. This new research expands our knowledge of the specific genes, microbial communities (families of bacteria, fungi, and viruses) and changes in the microbiome over time.


The study is the expanded second phase of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Human Microbiome Project and was a collaboration between the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and the University of California – San Diego. It is the largest microbiome analysis to-date.


The research teams analyzed 1,635 samples from 265 different people over time in order to determine which bugs were present and how they changed over time. They also began to unravel the roles of different fungi and viruses in the gut – which are both proving to play important roles in health and disease.


The samples were taken from the human gut, skin, oral and vaginal microbiomes. While the role of the gut microbiome has been firmly established in health and disease, it’s increasingly evident microbes inhabiting the other areas of our bodies (mouth, skin etc.) are crucial for preventing diseases like psoriasis, acne and rheumatoid arthritis. 


The findings:

  • One of the largest profiles of non-bacterial (viruses and fungi) members of the microbiome
  • Identified specific types of microbes at each body site
  • Profiled the biochemical activity that allows microbes to maintain human health
  • Identified how the microbiome changes over time


Much like sequencing the human genome, this new study shows that we still have a lot to learn, but it provides a huge new resource for scientists to help drive microbiome research.