Microbial DNA as Reliable as Fingerprints?

Rachel Hannum (1 PM Micro) found an article from Science Daily, which describes the incredible diversity of the microorganisms that live in the human gut. This bonus article from last year showed how scientists can characterize the gut bacteria, and make broad distinctions on human behavior and physical characteristics by the classes of bacteria, and this bonus submission by me detailed a specific mechanism on how these bacteria can influence our behavior. If you want to use this knowledge to help you find your soulmate in life, here is a link to help you down that path.  Here is Rachel’s summary:

bacteria“My Microbes: New Genetic Fingerprint Lives in Your Gut” was published on Science Daily on December 5th, 2012. This article shows some interesting information about microbe DNA and how that differs from person to person. Researchers at Washington University of Medicine (St. Louis) and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (Germany) are responsible for these findings.

The basics…

“Surprisingly, each of us can be identified by the collective DNA of our gut microbes,” said Dr. Weinstock from Washington University. Not only do people have unique fingerprints and DNA, this study shows that they also have unique microbe DNA in our digestive tract. Dr. Weinstock continues to say, “Differences in the way individuals respond to various drugs or the way they use specific nutrients can be traced to the genetic variation in our microbial genes as well as in our human genes.” Weinstock is suggesting that in the future we could use the microbial DNA in our gut to identify someone instead of DNA!


As most of us already know (or should know for the upcoming final!) there are thousands of microbes that live within our gut on a daily basis. Some of these microorganisms cause disease, but most of them are just normal flora that have a beneficial or at least peaceful relationship with the body. The article defines “microbiome—the collection of microbes and their genes—in the intestine.” The research is helping to open doors to understanding more why and how the microbiome affects human life. Since the microorganisms are often acquired during birth and immediately following, they are with you and evolve as you grow.

bacteria floraSpecifics of the research conducted…

The researchers collected stool samples from 207 different people from the United States and Europe. They looked at 101 species specifically that are commonly found in the intestine for their specific DNA including alterations, insertions, deletions and structural changes. For 43 people they collected a sample twice and compared the first and second for changes over time. They found very little variability in the samples. The species did go up and down, but the DNA remained very similar.

So what does this mean?

“The microbial DNA in the intestine is remarkable stable, like a fingerprint, even after a year, we could still distinguish individuals by the genetic signature of their microbial DNA” said Weinstock. This means that people could be identified, or even analyzed based on their microbial DNA. They suggest the microbial DNA may play a role in irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s or even obesity. This is just one step of many to come to try and figure out what exactly these microbes and their DNA have to do with the welfare and overall health of humans. The possibilities even include manipulating those genes to better humans.


About ycpmicro

My name is David Singleton, and I am an Associate Professor of Microbiology at York College of Pennsylvania. My main course is BIO230, a course taken by allied-health students at YCP. Views on this site are my own.

Posted on December 11, 2012, in Guest Post, You are what you eat and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Sandra Malinowski

    This is definitely interesting in that it makes you wonder if there are other ways to identify the DNA of someone. This would be especially interesting when looking at forensics, although i do not know much about that it definitely crosses my mind when reading this article

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