Associations between age and the human microbiota are robust and reproducible. The microbial composition at several body sites can predict human chronological age relatively accurately. Although it is largely unknown why specific microorganisms are more abundant at certain ages, human microbiota research has elucidated a series of microbial community transformations that occur between birth and death. In this Review, we explore microbial succession in the healthy human microbiota from the cradle to the grave. We discuss the stages from primary succession at birth, to disruptions by disease or antibiotic use, to microbial expansion at death. We address how these successions differ by body site and by domain (bacteria, fungi or viruses). We also review experimental tools that microbiota researchers use to conduct this work. Finally, we discuss future directions for studying the microbiota’s relationship with age, including designing consistent, well-powered, longitudinal studies, performing robust statistical analyses and improving characterization of non-bacterial microorganisms.
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This work was supported by the US National Institute of Justice under award number 2016-DN-BX-0194 (to R.K and J.L.M.) and the US National Institutes of Health under award number U19AG063744 Project 1: Changes in Gut Microbiome (to R.K.). A.H.D. is supported by the Stein Institute for Research on Aging, the Natasha Josefowitz Predoctoral Fellowship and the Reiter Endowed Fellowship.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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- Keystone community members
Microbial species that have an exceedingly large impact on the stability, or recovery after perturbation, of the whole ecosystem.
- Alpha diversity
A measure of within-sample diversity.
- Beta diversity
A measure of similarity between samples.
- Secondary bile acids
Bile acids that have been altered by the microbiota.
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Martino, C., Dilmore, A.H., Burcham, Z.M. et al. Microbiota succession throughout life from the cradle to the grave. Nat Rev Microbiol (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41579-022-00768-z