Research Highlights

Read this in Arabic

Scientists create comprehensive catalogue of the human gut microbiome reference genes

Published online 10 July 2014

Pakinam Amer

A group established an integrated gene catalogue of a little less than 10 million genes for most gut microbes, offering the most comprehensive freely accessible database covering the human gut microbiome diversity around the world.

The human gut microbiota is an ensemble of microorganisms in the gut. The new catalogue includes close-to-complete sets of genes for most of these gut microbes. It should help scientists understand their variations across different populations, and how they reveal health and disease markers. 

The researchers — including Jumana Yousuf Al-Aama, Jun Wang of the Faculty of Medicine, and Sherif Edris of the Faculty of Science, King Abdulaziz University (KAU), Saudi Arabia — combined previously scattered data from different studies. The samples create a cohort from three continents that, the study claims, is at least threefold larger than those used for previous gene catalogues.

The researchers also show how population-specific characteristics of gut microbiota can be discovered using the catalogue.


They analysed a group of samples from a phenotype-matched group of 60 south Chinese and 100 Danish healthy individuals using their catalogue, and it did reveal country-specific gut microbial signatures, especially involving diet-related processes such as carbohydrates and amino-acids metabolism. 

The catalogue also aided the scientists in comparing and mapping the functional differences between individual-specific genes (found in less than 1% of individuals) and common genes (found in over 50%). 

According to Wang, the enriched functions of individual-specific genes — compared to common genes — reflect the adaptive ability of gut microbe in dealing with the diverse challenges from the host’s immune system, from viral infection, and antibiotic treatment. 

“The understanding of the gut metagenome is at an early stage,” says Wang. “But here is the first time for us to investigate the common and rare entities in the gut microbiota in one thousand samples level.” 

The study is published in Nature Biotechnology1 and the database can be accessed here


Li, J. et al. An integrated catalog of reference genes in the human gut microbiome. Nature Biotech. doi:10.1038/nbt.2942 (2014).