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The microbiome explored: recent insights and future challenges


One of the most exciting scientific advances in recent years has been the realization that commensal microorganisms are not simple 'passengers' in our bodies, but instead have key roles in our physiology, including our immune responses and metabolism, as well as in disease. These insights have been obtained, in part, through the work of large-scale, consortium-driven metagenomic projects. Here, five experts in the field of microbiome research discuss the most surprising and exciting new findings, and outline the future steps that will be necessary to elucidate the numerous roles of the microbiota in human health and disease and to develop viable therapeutic strategies.

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Framingham study

A longitudinal cardiovascular study that begun in 1948 in Framingham, Massachusetts, USA, and is still ongoing.

Longitudinal study

A study that assesses the relationship between variables over long periods of time but at regular intervals.

NHANES study

(National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey study). A set of longitudinal studies combining interviews and physical examinations that assess the health and diet of adults and children in the United States, with an aim to determine the risk factors for diseases.


Substrates that are preferentially metabolized by a limited number of species and may thus be used as dietary supplements to promote targeted growth of these microorganisms.


Live microorganisms that confer a health benefit on the host when administered in adequate amounts.

Prospective cohort study

A longitudinal study of individuals (cohorts) who are initially assessed for their exposure to certain risk factors and then followed over time to evaluate their progression towards specific outcomes (often disease).

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Blaser, M., Bork, P., Fraser, C. et al. The microbiome explored: recent insights and future challenges. Nat Rev Microbiol 11, 213–217 (2013).

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