Skip to main content

Progress in understanding the human microbiome

The human body is host to a multitude of microbial species and communities that are estimated to outnumber the body’s somatic cells. Advances in sequencing have been paralleled by new analysis tools and have allowed us to perform more detailed metagenomic characterizations of these species, many of which have been implicated in various health conditions and diseases. The omics realm for interrogating microbial communities goes far beyond sequencing and includes proteomics and metabolomics. In addition, characterizing the human microbiome has gone from studies focused on one or two individuals to large-scale worldwide initiatives focused on major disorders and involving hundreds of participants. Questions focus on whether there is a core human microbiome, the correlations between microbial population dynamics and disease, and the technological and bioinformatics needs for supporting the advances in data generation. For example, the Human Microbiome Project, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health, involves the sequencing of at least 3,000 bacterial reference genomes, as well as significant metagenomic sequencing to characterize the microbial communities from 15 to 18 body sites in 300 consenting individuals. It is clear that the omics field holds significant promise for increasing our understanding of many microbial diseases of humans, including those yet to be characterized.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Nelson, K. Progress in understanding the human microbiome. Genome Biol 12, I11 (2011).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • DOI:


  • Microbial Community
  • Human Body
  • Population Dynamic
  • Somatic Cell
  • Analysis Tool