Rethinking heritability of the microbiome

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Science  11 Sep 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6253, pp. 1172-1173
DOI: 10.1126/science.aab3958

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For almost a century, heritability has been routinely used to predict genetic influences on phenotypes such as intelligence, schizophrenia, alcoholism, and depression (1). However, there has been relatively little work on heritability of the human microbiome—defined here as the number and types of microorganisms and viruses present in or on the human body. This question has become increasingly more interesting as research reveals that humans and their microbial communities interact in complex and often beneficial networks. An underlying question is the degree to which environment versus human genotype influences the microbiome. A central goal of quantifying microbiome heritability is to discern genetic from environmental factors that structure the microbiome and to potentially identify functionally important microbial community members.