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Return on Microbiome Research

Microbiome research has made similar promises as genomic research — the potential ability to cure chronic diseases and more — but Rob Knight from the University of California, San Diego, and the American Gut Project writes in Scientific American that microbiome research may be better poised to deliver. People's microbiomes, after all, are easier to change than their genomes.

"We have the potential not just to read out our microbiome and look at predispositions but to change it for the better," he says.

So far, he notes that lab-based studies have found when microbiome samples taken from Malawian children with the nutritional deficiency kwashiorkor are transferred into germ-free mice, the mice develop the same symptoms as the children. At the same time, mice that received samples from those children's unaffected identical twins showed no such symptoms. Sick mice then given the treatment for kwashiorkor then did better. While Knight says that germ-free mice are too expensive to use in the field, he adds that strides are being made to develop test-tube and computational models.

He also says that microbiome-based approaches could be used to restore the Western microbiome to a more ancestral state to maintain health.