The human intestinal microbiome: a new frontier of human biology.
To analyze the vast number and variety of microorganisms inhabiting the human intestine, emerging metagenomic technologies are extremely powerful. The intestinal microbes are taxonomically complex and constitute an ecologically dynamic community (microbiota) that has long been believed to possess a strong impact on human physiology. Furthermore, they are heavily involved in the maturation and proliferation of human intestinal cells, helping to maintain their homeostasis and can be causative of various diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease and obesity. A simplified animal model system has provided the mechanistic basis for the molecular interactions that occur at the interface between such microbes and host intestinal epithelia. Through metagenomic analysis, it is now possible to comprehensively explore the genetic nature of the intestinal microbiome, the mutually interacting system comprising the host cells and the residing microbial community. The human microbiome project was recently launched as an international collaborative research effort to further promote this newly developing field and to pave the way to a new frontier of human biology, which will provide new strategies for the maintenance of human health.