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  1. Mairi H McLean, Education Editor

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Basic Science

The interplay between the gut microbiome and host genetics

▸ Goodrich JK, Waters JL, Poole AC, et al. Human genetics shape the gut microbiome. Cell 2014;159:789–99.

Perturbations in the gut microbiota have been linked to a variety of health problems, from obesity, heart disease, autism and metabolic disorders. Interestingly most of these disorders also have a genetic component, yet the link between genetics and the gut microbiome remains elusive. The gut microbiome differs markedly between individuals and there is support for a host genetic effect on the microbiome. Of the two, the microbiome is distinctly more modifiable than host genetics, making it a potential target for manipulation in the effort to improve health. This study by Goodrich and colleagues assessed whether specific bacterial taxa within the gut microbiome were heritable and could be related to host body mass index (BMI). They also looked at whether predicted metagenomic functions were heritable. They performed a series of comparisons on faecal samples from 977 individuals comprising 171 monozygotic and 245 dizygotic twin pairs from the TwinsUK population. They identified many bacterial taxa that were influenced by host genetics. In particular, the lesser known Christensenellaceae family formed a co-occurrence network with other bacteria and these were enriched in individuals with low BMI. When transplanted along with an obesity-associated microbiome, Christensenella minuta reduced weight gain and altered the gut microbiome of the recipient host. The data further supports the possibility that certain bacterial species may be associated with differing health statuses. The study also provides strong evidence that our gut microbiota is at least in part genetically determined and may in time be modifiable to promote health.

Exploring the cell of origin of colorectal cancer

▸ Davis H, Irshad S, Bansal M, et al. Aberrant epithelial GREM1 expression initiates colonic tumourigenesis from cells outside the stem cell niche. Nat Med 2015;21:62–70.

The cell of origin of colon cancer is believed to be …

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