The gut microbiome: stable or unstable over time?

Trillions of microorganisms live in human intestine and form a complex ecosystem. This ecosystem can undergo dynamic changes over time by showing a shift in its composition or genetic alternation on genomes of different species. By comparing the gut microbial composition and genetic makeup four year apart, this study showed several novel aspects regarding the microbial stability and suggested different clinical implications in personalized medicine.

Firstly, it was shown that a rich and diverse gut microbial community seems to be more stable over time. Secondly, genetic makeup of some species is very different between different individuals and can be stable over time. Based on this information, researchers can classify microbial samples from the same individuals together with 82-95% of accuracy. Thirdly, some species show dynamic changes in its abundance and genetic makeup. Microbial changes over time can contribute to phenotypic development through metabolites, especially microbiome-derived metabolites such as vitamin B and uremic toxins. Last but not the least, the study raises some concerns about antibiotic usage in animal husbandry, which may be contributing to the spread of microbial antibiotic resistance in human through meat consumption.

“This was the first large-scale, long-term follow-up study in the human gut microbiome and has highlighted the importance of longitudinal study of the gut microbiome in understanding the role of the gut microbiome in human health and disease”, explains Dr. JingYuan Fu of the UMCG, the senior author of the study. “Many of these findings still need to be validated in independent cohorts with longer duration and larger sample size. Recently, the microbiome research group has completed the microbial profiling in 8,000 LifeLines individuals and is collaborating with the LifeLines to continuously follow-up those individuals. By building prospective collection of fecal microbial samples, we expect to gain insight into the underlying causality, ascertain the predictive power of the microbial signatures in disease development, and provide evidence for microbiome-based therapeutic approaches for disease prevention and treatment”.  

The study investigating the long-term stability of the gut microbiome in LifeLines participants led by Prof. J. Fu and Prof. A. Zhernakova, Department of Genetics, UMCG is published in prestigious journal CELL on April 9th. For more information, please read the paper on the website of CELL