The development of new technologies to isolate and identify microbial genomes has markedly increased our understanding of the role of microbiomes in health and disease. The idea, first proposed as part of the hygiene hypothesis, that environmental microbes influence the developmental trajectories of the immune system in early life, has now been considerably extended and refined. The abundantmicrobiota present inmucosal surfaces, especially the gut, is actively selected by the host through complex receptor systems that respond differentially depending on the molecular patterns presented to mucosal cells. Germ-free mice are more likely to develop allergic airway inflammation and show alterations in normal motor control and anxiety. These effects can be reversed by neonatal microbial recolonization but remain unchanged if recolonization occurs in adults. What emerges from these recent studies is the discovery of a complex, major early environmental determinant of lifetime human phenotypes. To change the natural course of asthma, obesity, and other chronic inflammatory conditions, active manipulation of the extensive bacterial, phage, and fungal metagenomes present in mucosal surfaces may be required, specifically during the developing years. Domesticating the human microbiome and adapting it to our health needs may be a challenge akin to, but far more complex than, the one faced by humanity when a few dozen species of plants and animals were domesticated during the transition between hunter-gatherer and sedentary societies after the end of the Pleistocene era.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine