Skip main navigation

Frequently Asked Questions


In this article you will find an answer to frequently asked questions on the topics covered during this week

1. What’s the difference between microbiota and microbiome?

Microbiota refers only to collection of microorganisms in a specific environment. For example, the term intestinal microbiota refers only to the collection of archaea, fungi, bacteria and viruses found in the gut. Microbiome is referred to the collection of genes harboured by microorganisms, the so called Theatru of activity. The theatrt of activity is referred to the microbiota’s function like the production of chemical outputs as microbial metabolites which can be beneficial or detrimental. It really depends on which species are dominating in certain conditions or after certain perturbations.

2. Is there any evidence to suggest which feeding method is better for infants?

Mother’s own milk represents the optimal flora source for infant nutrition, as it promotes immune defences and gastrointestinal function, protects against necrotizing enterocolitis, improves long-term clinical outcome, and is hypothesized to have a beneficial effect on the development of the infant gut microbiota. Breastfeeding provides a mix of nutrients and Immunoglobulins which can selectively shape the growth and function of beneficial microbes. Nutrition had a major impact on early microbiota composition and function, with cessation of breast-feeding, rather than introduction of solid food, being required for maturation into an adult-like microbiota.

3. Is the womb sterile?

There aisevidence that the foetus is not sterile and contains microorganisms. Microbial transfer from the mother during the perinatal period is a major determinant of microbiota composition in new-borns.

4. Is there evidence that the microbiota of babies delivered vaginally give them an advantageous start in life?

With caesarean section, infants are not directly exposed to maternal microbes and therefore are more likely to be colonized by environmental microorganisms. This could be a disadvantage.

The microbiome is a key component of what is called the gut brain axis and imbalances in gut homeostasis are often associated with immunological, neurological and psychiatric pathologies. A pro-inflammatory status appears to promote the development of diseases in numerous neurological disorders related to specific microbial marker.

6. As our microbiota is unique to each individual, I wondered if it is possible for scientists to test and record the microorganisms present in the microbiome?

Foecal samples is often used give an idea of the composition of the gut microbiota. Results of this study can be of three ways: microbial composition, genome reconstruction and drawing of metabolic pathways that can be used from microbes to produce molecules.

7. Should all viruses considered as villains?

No. The human gastrointestinal tract is often looked at from a bacterial point of view, although it should be noted that other microbes also make important functional contributions. The term “Viroma” defines the viral genetic material present in an environment. Considerable efforts have been made to characterize the prokaryotic viruses also known as bacteriophages or phages. In detail, bacteriophages can be used for the modulation of the microbiota, and phages can function as bacterial load controllers and might be used as a substitute for antibiotic treatment.

This article is from the free online

The Human Microbiome

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education