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Microbiomes Make Big News

The spacecraft Voyager I sailed out beyond the heliosphere and into interstellar space. Scientists inched closer to developing human body part replacements. The bones of Richard III were identified and yanked from their home under a parking lot and the cause of his death was revealed (crushed skull).

These were among the big science stories that broke this year, but the biggest, according to Science News, was the advance of the idea that organisms and the microbes that colonize them are really superorganisms.

Revelations from the Human Microbiome Project and other microbiome research soon may "alter conceptions of what and who we are," Tina Hesman Saey writes.

Because only around 10 percent of a human's cells are actually human, with microbes making up the remaining 90 percent, it is useful to consider humans as a superorganism made up of ourselves, as hosts, and our microbe guests. For example, using the superorganism approach could help scientists better understand how diet, chemicals, and environmental factors impact health.

Saey notes that several new studies have argued in favor of the superorganism view, and some researchers have even proposed looking at a host organism's genes along with those from the microbes that colonize it, essentially lumping them together into a 'hologenome'.

Also making the Science News top science stories list was the US Supreme Court's decision in AMP v. Myriad Genetics, that naturally occurring genes cannot be patented. That decision opened the door for competitors to jump into the BRCA testing business, and will have many consequences to the biomedical business and research sectors going forward.