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EMBO Rep. 2011 Jul 1;12(8):775-84. doi: 10.1038/embor.2011.137.

Our microbial selves: what ecology can teach us.

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Department of Computer Science, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, Colorado 80309, USA.


Advances in DNA sequencing have allowed us to characterize microbial communities--including those associated with the human body--at a broader range of spatial and temporal scales than ever before. We can now answer fundamental questions that were previously inaccessible and use well-tested ecological theories to gain insight into changes in the microbiome that are associated with normal development and human disease. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the ecosystems associated with our body follow trends identified in communities at other sites and scales, and thus studies of the microbiome benefit from ecological insight. Here, we assess human microbiome research in the context of ecological principles and models, focusing on diversity, biological drivers of community structure, spatial patterning and temporal dynamics, and suggest key directions for future research that will bring us closer to the goal of building predictive models for personalized medicine.

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