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Taking Stock of the Human Microbiome and Disease

Science  08 Jun 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6086, pp. 1246-1247
DOI: 10.1126/science.336.6086.1246

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Summary

Our bodies, inside and out, are teeming with trillions of microbes. Most of them are our friends, helping us to digest food, strengthen our immune systems, and keep dangerous enemy pathogens from invading our tissues and organs. Evidence is building that this resident community of microbes, called the microbiome, plays a major role in health and disease. When the normal composition of the microbiome is thrown off balance, researchers say, the human host can get into serious trouble—especially because the 5 million to 8 million different microbial genes in our bodies vastly outnumber the 20,000 or so human genes. Indeed, recent research has implicated microbiome imbalances in disorders as diverse as cancer, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis, asthma, and possibly even autism.