Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Dysbiosis is not an answer

Dysbiosis, an imbalance in the microbiota, has been a major organizing concept in microbiome science. Here, we discuss how the balance concept, a holdover from prescientific thought, is irrelevant to — and may even distract from — useful microbiome research.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1

    Magner, L. N. A History of Medicine (CRC Press, 2005).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Tamboli, C. P., Neut, C., Desreumaux, P. & Colombel, J. F. Gut 53, 1–4 (2004).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Bäumler, A. J. & Sperandio, V. Nature 535, 85–93 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Mazmanian, S. K., Round, J. L. & Kasper, D. L. Nature 453, 620–625 (2008).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Friedman, J. & Alm, E. J. PLoS Comput. Biol. 8, e1002687 (2012).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Fischbach, M. A. & Sonnenburg, J. L. Cell Host Microbe 10, 336–347 (2011).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Lee, Y. K. & Mazmanian, S. K. Science 330, 1768–1773 (2010).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Sczesnak, A. et al. Cell Host Microbe 10, 260–272 (2011).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Caselli, M., Tosini, D., Gafà, R., Gasbarrini, A. & Lanza, G. Am. J. Gastroenterol. 108, 860–861 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Henao-Mejia, J. et al. Nature 482, 179–185 (2012).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Roberfroid, M. et al. Br. J. Nutr. 104, S1–S63 (2010).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Devkota, S. et al. Nature 487, 104–108 (2012).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Hopkins, M. J., Sharp, R. & Macfarlane, G. T. Gut 48, 198–205 (2001).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Sokol, H. et al. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 105, 16731–16736 (2008).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Harley, I. T. & Karp, C. L. Mol. Metab. 1, 21–31 (2012).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Eric J. Alm.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Olesen, S., Alm, E. Dysbiosis is not an answer. Nat Microbiol 1, 16228 (2016).

Download citation

Further reading


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing