Researchers take steps to compile healthy human gut microbiome reference database

An initial baseline healthy gut microbiome database and abundance profile is described in a new study published in the journal PLOS One.

Though research interest in the human gut microbiome's importance to overall health continues to grow, there's currently no comprehensive gut microbiome reference list available to researchers and patients. In this study, researchers began to catalog the organismal makeup of healthy human gut microbiomes and develop a prototype reporting template for clinicians to relay results to patients.

To compile their database, the authors genetically sequenced 48 fecal samples from sixteen healthy participants recruited from George Washington University campus in Washington, D.C., in addition to using 50 fecal metagenomic samples downloaded from the Human Microbiome Project from individuals screened as healthy.

After parsing all samples' genomic and metagenomic sequences using a novel software-based workflow, the researchers compiled an initial database of confirmed microbes and their relative abundance across all samples, the GutFeelingKB, using the National Center for Biotechnology Information’s comprehensive and publicly available genetic information to provide metadata on the organisms described.

The GutFeelingKB describes 157 organisms, 155 bacterial and two archaeal organisms, across 60 distinct genera. The largest phylum of bacteria represented was Firmicutes, 40 percent of all organisms on the list, which in turn was made up of 20 percent Clostridia, 19 percent Bacterioidia, 17 percent Bifidobacteriales, 14 percent Enterobacterales, and 14 percent Lactobacillales bacteria, classes of bacteria also found in yogurt and other probiotic foods.

The authors also note that 84 organisms were common to all of the samples, potentially indicating that these may be core species for the human gut.

This study only recruited sixteen participants, a small sample. But while further studies might continue to identify additional organisms present in healthy guts from around the world, researchers said GutFeelingKB is an important first step. The database could act as a starting point for comparative analysis of samples and the development of future patient microbiome treatments.

"Our goal is to map the healthy gut microbiome so that we and other researchers can use our data to develop disease specific prediction models,” researchers said in a statement.