Genetics of Human Host Plays Very Minor Role in Determining Microbiome Variation; Diet & Lifestyle Are Most Dominant Factors Shaping Microbiome Composition, New Study Suggests; Modification of Microbiome May Have Major Influence on Health

The question of nature versus nurture extends to our microbiome - the personal complement of mostly-friendly bacteria we carry around with us. Study after study has found that our microbiome affects nearly every aspect of our health; and its microbial composition, which varies from individual to individual, may hold the key to everything from weight gain to moods. Some microbiome researchers had suggested that this variation begins with differences in our genes; but a large-scale study conducted at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel challenges this idea and provides evidence that the connection between microbiome and health may be even more important than we thought. Indeed, the working hypothesis has been that genetics plays a major role in determining microbiome variation among people. According to this view, our genes determine the environment our microbiome occupies, and each particular environment allows certain bacterial strains to thrive. However, the Weizmann researchers were surprised to discover that the host's genetics plays a very minor role in determining microbiome composition - accounting for only about 2% of the variation between populations. The research was led by research student Daphna Rothschild, Dr. Omer Weissbrod, and Dr. Elad Barkan from the lab of Professor Eran Segal of the Computer Science and Applied Mathematics Department, together with members of Professor Eran Elinav's group of the Immunology Department, all at the Weizmann Institute of Science. The researchers’ findings, which were published on February 28, 2018 in Nature, were based on a unique database of around 1,000 Israelis who had participated in a longitudinal study of personalized nutrition.
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