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Nat Commun. 2014 Jul 8;5:4344. doi: 10.1038/ncomms5344.

Tipping elements in the human intestinal ecosystem.

Author information

1
1] Department of Veterinary Biosciences, University of Helsinki, PO Box 66, FI-00014 Helsinki, Finland [2] Laboratory of Microbiology, Wageningen University, PO Box 8033, 6700 EJ Wageningen, The Netherlands.
2
1] Department of Veterinary Biosciences, University of Helsinki, PO Box 66, FI-00014 Helsinki, Finland [2].
3
1] Department of Bacteriology and Immunology, Immunobiology Research Program, Haartman Institute, University of Helsinki, PO Box 21, FI-00014 Helsinki, Finland [2].
4
Aquatic Ecology, Wageningen University, PO Box 47, 6700 AA Wageningen, The Netherlands.
5
1] Department of Veterinary Biosciences, University of Helsinki, PO Box 66, FI-00014 Helsinki, Finland [2] Laboratory of Microbiology, Wageningen University, PO Box 8033, 6700 EJ Wageningen, The Netherlands [3] Department of Bacteriology and Immunology, Immunobiology Research Program, Haartman Institute, University of Helsinki, PO Box 21, FI-00014 Helsinki, Finland.

Abstract

The microbial communities living in the human intestine can have profound impact on our well-being and health. However, we have limited understanding of the mechanisms that control this complex ecosystem. Here, based on a deep phylogenetic analysis of the intestinal microbiota in a thousand western adults, we identify groups of bacteria that exhibit robust bistable abundance distributions. These bacteria are either abundant or nearly absent in most individuals, and exhibit decreased temporal stability at the intermediate abundance range. The abundances of these bimodally distributed bacteria vary independently, and their abundance distributions are not affected by short-term dietary interventions. However, their contrasting alternative states are associated with host factors such as ageing and overweight. We propose that the bistable groups reflect tipping elements of the intestinal microbiota, whose critical transitions may have profound health implications and diagnostic potential.

PMID:
25003530
PMCID:
PMC4102116
DOI:
10.1038/ncomms5344
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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