POST - Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology

The Microbiome and Human Health

Published Wednesday, May 2, 2018

This POSTnote examines what is known about the human microbiome and the diseases and conditions linked to it. The note then describes interventions to modify the human microbiome and examines the issues raised by their use and by microbiome research more generally.

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The term human microbiome refers to all of the different microbes that live in and on the human body, including bacteria, viruses and fungi, as well as their genetic information. Recent developments in the field have stimulated interest across a variety of sectors, including agriculture, the marine environment and human health. As a consequence the microbiome market, fuelled by resulting commercial interest, is projected to reach a worth of up to $2.2 billion by 2025.

The human microbiome plays a key role in human health; for example it aids the digestion of food and protects from disease. It is established during infancy, but can change in response to factors such as diet, the environment and antibiotic use. Disturbances in the microbiome are linked to medical conditions such as infection with Clostridium difficile, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and potentially to obesity.

There is potential to exploit knowledge of the microbiome to produce new treatments. Current approaches include the development of drugs, prebiotics, probiotics and faecal microbiota transplants

Acknowledgements:

 POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers (*) for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing including: 

Dr James Leigh (4D Pharma)

Peter Burlinson (BBSRC)*

Dr Alan Walker (University of Aberdeen)*

Professor Tariq Iqbal (University of Birmingham, Chair of Microbiome for health working group)*

Professor Peter Hawkey (University of Birmingham)*

Dr Matthew Brookes (British Society of Gastroenterology)*

Professor Julian Marchesi (University of Cardiff, Imperial College London)*

Edward Green (CHAIN Biotechnology)*

Professor John McLaughlin (CORE, University of Manchester)*

Mary Mcnamara (Department of Health and Social Care)*

Ruth Willis (Food Standards Agency)*

Dr Gordon Ford (Innovate UK)

Dr Jonathan Swann (Imperial College London)*

Dr Lesley Hoyles (Imperial College London)*

Dr David  MacIntyre (Imperial College London)*

Dr David Moyes (Kings College London)

Professor Kevin Whelan (Kings College London)*

Dr Debbie Shawcross (Kings College London)*

Dr Charles Vander Broek (Knowledge Transfer Network)

Dr Chris Jones (MHRA)*

Dr Paul Richards (Microbiology Society)*

Mike Romanos (Microbiotica)

Dr Karen Finney (MRC)

Dr Simon Goldenberg (NHS)

Paul Shercliff (NHS England)*

Dr Jamie Lorimer (University of Oxford)

Andrew Chapple (Quadram Institute)*

Dr Lindsay Hall (Quadram Institute)*

Dr Nathalie Juge (Quadram Institute)

Professor Ian Rowland (University of Reading)*

Professor Glenn Gibson (University of Reading)*

Professor Nigel Klein (University College London)

Professor Paul O'Toole (University College Cork)*

POSTnotes POST-PN-0574

Authors: Peter Border; Cullen, Erin

Topics: Diseases, Food, Health education and preventive medicine, Medicine, Science

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The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology produces independent, balanced and accessible briefings on public policy issues related to science and technology.