Probing the Microbial Mix

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Science  01 Feb 2013:
Vol. 339, Issue 6119, pp. 491
DOI: 10.1126/science.339.6119.491-a

In the past decade, it has become apparent that we are colonized by microbes that probably shape many of our most important physiological processes. Much of the work has taken a metagenomics approach—characterizing what microbes are there and what genes they express. Maurice et al. now go one step further and begin to investigate how our microbial inhabitants respond to pharmacological perturbations. A combination of single-cell analysis by flow cytometry, DNA sequencing, and metatranscriptomics revealed that the bacteria within the human gut vary with respect to membrane integrity, polarization, and metabolic activity. Metabolic activity was enriched in Firmicutes, whereas Bacteroidetes were less metabolically active. Exposure to both antibiotics and host-targeted drugs resulted in alterations in the physiology, structure, and gene expression profile of the bacteria. An increase in genes associated with resistance, stress responses, and metabolism was observed after antibiotic treatment. These results represent an important step toward understanding on a broad scale how specific perturbations affect our microbial communities.

Cell 152, 39 (2013).

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