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“Normal” for the gut microbiota
For the benefit of future clinical studies, it is critical to establish what constitutes a “normal” gut microbiome, if it exists at all. Through fecal samples and questionnaires, Falony et al. and Zhernakova et al. targeted general populations in Belgium and the Netherlands, respectively. Gut microbiota composition correlated with a range of factors including diet, use of medication, red blood cell counts, fecal chromogranin A, and stool consistency. The data give some hints for possible biomarkers of normal gut communities.
Deep sequencing of the gut microbiomes of 1135 participants from a Dutch population-based cohort shows relations between the microbiome and 126 exogenous and intrinsic host factors, including 31 intrinsic factors, 12 diseases, 19 drug groups, 4 smoking categories, and 60 dietary factors. These factors collectively explain 18.7% of the variation seen in the interindividual distance of microbial composition. We could associate 110 factors to 125 species and observed that fecal chromogranin A (CgA), a protein secreted by enteroendocrine cells, was exclusively associated with 61 microbial species whose abundance collectively accounted for 53% of microbial composition. Low CgA concentrations were seen in individuals with a more diverse microbiome. These results are an important step toward a better understanding of environment-diet-microbe-host interactions.