Microbiota and microbiome: what is the difference?

Microbiota and microbiome: what is the difference?

Topics: microbiota, microbiome

More often than not, the terms microbiota and microbiome are considered interchangeable. However, they actually refer to two entirely different concepts and, despite the subtle differences, it is essential to distinguish the former from the latter.

The microbiota 

Let’s start with the microbiota. The word refers to clusters of microorganisms that live and prosper in specific environments.

In the human body, there are many clusters of microorganisms allocated in different areas: oral microbiota, intestinal microbiota, skin microbiota, vaginal microbiota, and so on. These “groups” of microorganisms include bacteria, viruses and fungi, and their goal is to participate in specific functions of the body. They help us fight-off infections, keep our immune system healthy, support us in the digestion of food, and much more.

The microbiome

The microbiome, on the other hand, can be described as the collection of genomes from all the microorganisms that are found in a specific biological environment. Microbiomes can be found in plants, animals and humans, both in their organisms as a whole or in particular clusters inhabiting different locations.

Just as the microbiota, the microbiome is also of critical importance: a study conducted by the Human Microbiome Project has confirmed that there are likely more than eight million unique genes associated with the various microbiomes present inside the human body. Hence, in more simple terms, the entire human microbiome can contribute genetically to each person, several hundred times more than the whole human genome!

Once again, just like microbiota, the microbiome can influence and have an impact on several different diseases since it affects different parts of the human body.

Specifically, the microbiome influences:

  • Disease
  • Immunity
  • Nutrition
  • Behaviour

Microbiote and microbioma: the focus of countless scientific studies aimed at personalized medicine 

Currently, there are countless studies and researches aimed at fully understanding the potential of microbiota and microbiome in terms of personalized medicine and therapy.

Considering that the microbiota can change according to diet and lifestyle, shifting from a condition of eubiosis to dysbiosis (and vice versa), it has become more and more mandatory to focus on how to positively influence this acquired organ.

Much of the research is focused on the gastrointestinal microbiome, as the majority of microbiota resides in our intestines. However, additional studies have been carried out regarding the analysis of genomic material in general.