The Human Microbiome Project

Student writer: Trenton Beckendorff
Student editors: Ana Lyons and Rita Chakrabarti
23andMe editor: Ethan Jewett

The Headline

On September 20th, the Human Microbiome Project released its second-wave of data [1].

What Is the Human Microbiome?

The human microbiome refers to the genomes of all of the microorganisms, like eukaryotes (organisms with cells containing a nucleus), viruses, and bacteria, that live inside all of us [2]. Don’t freak out! Recent studies suggest that for every one of your trillions of cells, there’s a corresponding bacterial cell inside of you [3]. The Human Microbiome Project aims to identify these microbiota, i.e. microorganisms that reside within and interact with the human body, and determine how they affect human health.

What’s New?

The second-wave of data includes 1,631 new metagenomes [1]. A metagenome is just the combined genomes of all of the microbiota sampled. You can explore the updated dataset by visiting the following link:

Thought Question for Students

What are the clinical and pharmaceutical applications that can result from an advanced understanding of the human microbiome?


1. Lloyd-Price, J., Mahurkar, A., Rahnavard, G., Crabtree, J., Orvis, J., Hall, B. A., … & McDonald, D. (2017). Strains, functions and dynamics in the expanded Human Microbiome Project. Nature, 550(7674), 92-95.

2. Ursell, L. K., Metcalf, J. L., Parfrey, L. W., & Knight, R. (2012). Defining the human microbiome. Nutrition reviews, 70 (suppl_1), S38-S44.

3. Abbott, A. (2016). Scientists bust myth that our bodies have more bacteria than human cells. Nature News, 8.

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