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A Metagenomic Meta-Analysis Reveals Functional Signatures of Health and Disease in the Human Gut Microbiome

By Courtney Armour, Stephen Nayfach, Katherine Pollard, Thomas Sharpton

Posted 23 Mar 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/286419 (published DOI: 10.1128/mSystems.00332-18)

While recent research indicates that human health depends, in part, upon the symbiotic relationship between gut microbes and their host, the specific interactions between host and microbe that define health are poorly resolved. Metagenomic clinical studies clarify this definition by revealing gut microbial taxa and functions that stratify healthy and diseased individuals. However, the typical single-disease focus of microbiome studies limits insight into which microbiome features robustly associate with health, indicate general deviations from health, or predict specific diseases. Additionally, the focus on taxonomy may limit our understanding of how the microbiome relates to health given observations that different taxonomic members can fulfill similar functional roles. To improve our understanding of the association between the gut microbiome and health, we integrated about 2,000 gut metagenomes obtained from eight clinical studies in a statistical meta-analysis. We identify characteristics of the gut microbiome that associate generally with disease, including functional alpha-diversity, beta-diversity, and beta-dispersion. Moreover, we resolve microbiome modules that stratify diseased individuals from controls in a manner independent of study-specific effects. Many of the differentially abundant functions overlap multiple diseases suggesting a role in host health, while others are specific to a single disease and may associate with disease-specific etiologies. Our results clarify potential microbiome-mediated mechanisms of disease and reveal features of the microbiome that may be useful for the development of microbiome-based diagnostics. Ultimately, our study clarifies the definition of a healthy microbiome and how perturbations to it associate with disease.

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