Original Article

Subject Category: Microbial population and community ecology

The ISME Journal (2013) 7, 707–717; doi:10.1038/ismej.2012.146; published online 29 November 2012

Microbiota conservation and BMI signatures in adult monozygotic twins

Sebastian Tims1, Catherine Derom2, Daisy M Jonkers3, Robert Vlietinck2, Wim H Saris4, Michiel Kleerebezem1,5, Willem M de Vos1,6 and Erwin G Zoetendal1

  1. 1Laboratory of Microbiology, Wageningen University and TI Food and Nutrition, Wageningen, The Netherlands
  2. 2Department of Human Genetics, University Hospital Gasthuisberg, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
  3. 3Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, University Hospital Maastricht, Maastricht, The Netherlands
  4. 4Department of Human Biology, Maastricht University Medical Centre, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands
  5. 5NIZO Food Research, Ede, The Netherlands
  6. 6Department of Veterinary Biosciences, Division of Microbiology and Epidemiology, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland

Correspondence: EG Zoetendal, Laboratory of Microbiology, Wageningen University, Dreijenplein 10, Wageningen, 6703 HB, The Netherlands. E-mail: erwin.zoetendal@wur.nl

Received 31 May 2012; Revised 3 September 2012; Accepted 17 October 2012
Advance online publication 29 November 2012



The human gastrointestinal (GI) tract microbiota acts like a virtual organ and is suggested to be of great importance in human energy balance and weight control. This study included 40 monozygotic (MZ) twin pairs to investigate the influence of the human genotype on GI microbiota structure as well as microbial signatures for differences in body mass index (BMI). Phylogenetic microarraying based on 16S rRNA genes demonstrated that MZ twins have more similar microbiotas compared with unrelated subjects (P<0.001), which allowed the identification of 35 genus-like microbial groups that are more conserved between MZ twins. Half of the twin pairs were selected on discordance in terms of BMI, which revealed an inverse correlation between Clostridium cluster IV diversity and BMI. Furthermore, relatives of Eubacterium ventriosum and Roseburia intestinalis were positively correlated to BMI differences, and relatives of Oscillospira guillermondii were negatively correlated to BMI differences. Lower BMI was associated with a more abundant network of primary fiber degraders, while a network of butyrate producers was more prominent in subjects with higher BMI. Combined with higher butyrate and valerate contents in the fecal matter of higher BMI subjects, the difference in microbial networks suggests a shift in fermentation patterns at the end of the colon, which could affect human energy homeostasis.


BMI signatures; discordant BMI; gastrointestinal tract; microbiota; monozygotic twins