First map of the Belgian microbiome

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The human body naturally hosts 1,000 trillion microbial cells, the so called microbiome, which on itself is essential for the proper functioning of our bodies. The microbiome has been linked to different diseases, however, which factors in a healthy individual’s diet and lifestyle affect the composition of the microbiome have remained elusive until now.

A research study published in the leading scientific journal Science and led by Prof. Jeroen Raes (VIB/VUB/KU Leuven), initiator of the Flemish Gut Flora Project, has now provided the first population-based microbiome characterization of gut flora variation among healthy individuals. Based on computational analysis of clinically collected stool, blood samples and questionnaires of more than 1000 healthy Belgian volunteers, the core human microbiome and its correlation with various lifestyle, diet, disease and medication factors could be revealed. Of these, 69 factors were found to be correlated with microbiome diversity and composition, most of them related to transit time, health, diet, medication, gender, and age. More than 90% of the identified factors were also detected in a parallel Dutch LifeLines study, co-authored by Prof. Raes, but focused on people from the Netherlands.

The Flemish Gut Flora Project has brought unprecedented insight about the human gut flora composition, allowing to explain 7% of its variation. The Raes Lab believes that around 40,000 human samples are needed to have a complete mapping of the human microbiome. The direct implication of these findings as a diagnostic or a disease preventive tool in the clinic will be further explored in an interview with Prof. Jeroen Raes.


Falony et al., Population-level analysis of gut microbiome variation, Science (2016)

Zhernakova et al. ,Population-based metagenomics analysis reveals markers for gut microbiome composition and diversity,  Science (2016)