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Microbiota: a definition

Scientists define microbiota as “the assemblage of microorganisms (all the bacteria, archaea, eukaryotes, and viruses) present in a defined environment.” More specifically, the microbiota varies according to its surrounding environment.

The term microbiota is thus preceded by the name of the environment in which it is located. For example, ‘gut microbiota’ refers to the microbiota in the intestinal tract.

Microbiota / Microbioma
Microbiota

Microbiome: a definition

The term microbiome was initially used to refer to the collection of genes harbored by microorganisms.

A broad definition of microbiome encompasses “the entire habitat, including the microorganisms (bacteria, archaea, lower and higher eukaryotes, and viruses), their genes, and the surrounding environmental conditions.”

However, to simplify, the term ‘microbiome’ is commonly used to refer to the microorganisms you harbor in and on your body (i.e., your microbiota).

What is gut microbiota?

The human body’s largest population of microorganisms resides in the intestine and is collectively called the gut microbiota.

Although initially it was thought that there were more microbial than human cells in the body, recent estimates show microbial and human cells are present in comparable numbers.

In an individual weighing 70kg, the human gut microbiota gathers more than 100 trillion microorganisms and weighs about 200g (equivalent to a medium-sized mango).

There are 150/200 times more genes in this individual’s microbiota than in all of their cells put together.

The human genome consists of about 23,000 genes, whereas our microbiome encodes over 3 million genes that produce thousands of metabolites. In other words, in terms of genes, humans are more than 99% microbial.

Although there is a ‘core’ consisting of bacterial groups common to all healthy humans (it has been estimated that one third of the gut microbiota is common to most people), gut microbiota composition is mostly unique to each individual and is influenced by:

Factors over which humans can take action:

  • feeding methods (breast milk, artificial milk and introduction of solid food);
  • medication (antibiotics, acid suppressants, anti-diabetic drugs…);
  • dietary habits and the way food is cooked;
  • environment and lifestyle (rural vs. urban locations, exercise); and
  • weight gain.

Factors over which humans cannot take direct action:

  • genetics;
  • the anatomical part of the intestinal tract (e.g., the large intestine has a higher microbial diversity compared with the small intestine);
  • gestational age (preterm birth vs. full-term birth);
  • delivery mode (vaginal delivery vs. C-section); and
  • aging.

Interestingly, even though each individual has a specific microbiota that acts like an individual identity card, the microbiota in general also brings unique functions to humans (e.g., digesting nutrients that humans cannot digest on their own and producing vitamins, among others).

Information from: GutMicrobiotaforhealth.com

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