What is the Microbiome?

The collection of microbes that live in and on your body is known as your microbiota.  The complete set of genes within the microbiota is referred to as your microbiome.  The microbial community inside you is as diverse as any found in the seas and soils of Earth.  There may be as many as 100 trillion cells from more than 1,000 different species.  It has been estimated that there are somewhere between one and ten microbial cells for each of your human cells.  But, microbial cells are much smaller than your human cells, so they only occupy a relatively small volume within your body.  By weight, it is estimated that the microbes in your intestines weight about 3-6 pounds (approximately the weight of a bag of sugar).  So don’t worry, you are still mostly human.



Why is the Microbiome so important?

Even though the microbes are very small, as a group they have many, many genes.   It is estimated that the microbiome contains about 100 times more genes than your human cells do.  With its vast gene pool, your microbiome has a huge impact on your health.  Its influence is so great, in fact, that it is sometimes referred to as your “invisible organ”. It influences your weight, digestion, immune system, mood, aging and brain functions.  There is almost no aspect of your health that isn't influenced by your microbiome.  There is even evidence that the microbiome influences things as unexpected as how much you attract mosquitoes.

If the microbiome is so important, you may be wondering why you haven't hear about it before.  Well, this is because new DNA sequencing technologies have only recently emerged that have allowed scientists to understand how important microbes are for human health.  The importance of the microbiome has been known intuitively throughout some stages of human history but was forgotten with the emergence of the germ theory of medicine over the past century.  The germ theory of medicine has saved many lives but it also established a mind set that all microbes were bad.  Medicine is now learning that microbes are essential companions and partners in human health.

The specific composition of your microbiome changes over time and is as unique as your fingerprint.  It is strongly impacted by your age, what you eat, and your lifestyle choices.  And here is the good and bad news.  You can strongly influence the composition of your microbiome with your lifestyle and dietary choices.  Your human genome is fixed but your microbiome is not.  This means you have a variable genome which is much larger than your human genome and that you have the power to influence it for the better.  Genome Insights is here to help you on your journey to nurture your microbiome.

If you want to learn even more fascinating facts about the human microbiome, check out this link for the
Utah Genetic Learning Center.