The human body plays host to an estimated 100 trillion microbial cells, most of them in the gut where they have a profound influence on human physiology and nutrition — and are now regarded as crucial for human life. Gut microbes contribute to the energy harvest from food, and changes of gut microbiome may be associated with bowel diseases or obesity. Now the international MetaHIT (Metagenomics of the Human Intestinal Tract) project has published a gene catalogue of the human gut microbiome derived from 124 healthy, overweight and obese human adults, as well as inflammatory disease patients, from Denmark and Spain. The resulting data provide the first insights into this gene set — which is over 150 times larger than the human gene complement — and show that the genes are largely shared among individuals. Based on the variety of functions encoded by the gene set, it is possible to define both a minimal gut metagenome and a minimal gut bacterial genome.
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