The human microbiome is comprised of the bacteria, archaea, fungi, protists, and viruses that live in and on our bodies. It is estimated that the microbial cells that comprise your individual microbiome outnumber your own cells by a factor of 10 and that their collective gene content outnumbers your own by a factor of 100. Although scientists and physicians have appreciated the diversity of our “fellow travelers” for decades, our ability to count, study, and categorize our microbes was long limited by the challenges associated with their culture in the laboratory. The utilization of high-throughput sequencing platforms, development of new and improved bioinformatics resources, and the introduction of other ‘omics technologies have shed new light on the composition and function of the human microbiome. The NIH-sponsored Human Microbiome Project characterized the microbial communities of hundreds of healthy individuals in an attempt to define the “healthy” microbiome at various sites throughout the body, and other projects have examined the human microbiome under varying states of disease and health. Microbiome and metagenomic studies have revealed that microbes may contribute to metabolic disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, heart disease, and cancer; and emerging evidence from mouse models suggests a strong link between gut microbiome composition and brain development and behavior. Microbiome and metagenomic studies have also demonstrated that our microbiota may confer protective or beneficial effects, and the depletion or loss of these “good” microbes may leave us susceptible to disease or infection. This talk will introduce the concept of the human microbiome, discuss the techniques that are used to characterize the structure and function of mixed microbial communities, and highlight recent findings from the literature.

Citation Format: Emily B. Hollister. Meet your microbiome: An introduction to the who, what, and how of mixed microbial communities. [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the Thirteenth Annual AACR International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research; 2014 Sep 27-Oct 1; New Orleans, LA. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Can Prev Res 2015;8(10 Suppl): Abstract nr PL01-01.