Microbiome definition re-visited: old concepts and new challenges

Gabriele Berg, Daria Rybakova, Doreen Fischer, Tomislav Cernava, Marie Christine Champomier Vergès, Trevor Charles, Xiaoyulong Chen, Luca Cocolin, Kellye Eversole, Gema Herrero Corral, Maria Kazou, Linda Kinkel, Lene Lange, Nelson Lima, Alexander Loy, James A. Macklin, Emmanuelle Maguin, Tim Mauchline, Ryan McClure, Birgit MitterMatthew Ryan, Inga Sarand, Hauke Smidt, Bettina Schelkle, Hugo Roume, G. Seghal Kiran, Joseph Selvin, Rafael Soares Correa de Souza, Leo Van Overbeek, Brajesh K. Singh, Michael Wagner, Aaron Walsh, Angela Sessitsch, Michael Schloter

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1036 Scopus citations


The field of microbiome research has evolved rapidly over the past few decades and has become a topic of great scientific and public interest. As a result of this rapid growth in interest covering different fields, we are lacking a clear commonly agreed definition of the term "microbiome."Moreover, a consensus on best practices in microbiome research is missing. Recently, a panel of international experts discussed the current gaps in the frame of the European-funded MicrobiomeSupport project. The meeting brought together about 40 leaders from diverse microbiome areas, while more than a hundred experts from all over the world took part in an online survey accompanying the workshop. This article excerpts the outcomes of the workshop and the corresponding online survey embedded in a short historical introduction and future outlook. We propose a definition of microbiome based on the compact, clear, and comprehensive description of the term provided by Whipps et al. in 1988, amended with a set of novel recommendations considering the latest technological developments and research findings. We clearly separate the terms microbiome and microbiota and provide a comprehensive discussion considering the composition of microbiota, the heterogeneity and dynamics of microbiomes in time and space, the stability and resilience of microbial networks, the definition of core microbiomes, and functionally relevant keystone species as well as co-evolutionary principles of microbe-host and inter-species interactions within the microbiome. These broad definitions together with the suggested unifying concepts will help to improve standardization of microbiome studies in the future, and could be the starting point for an integrated assessment of data resulting in a more rapid transfer of knowledge from basic science into practice. Furthermore, microbiome standards are important for solving new challenges associated with anthropogenic-driven changes in the field of planetary health, for which the understanding of microbiomes might play a key role. [MediaObject not available: see fulltext.]

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 30 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Author(s).

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Letter
  • Video-Audio Media


Dive into the research topics of 'Microbiome definition re-visited: old concepts and new challenges'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this