You may have heard the term “microbiome” and “microbiota” and wondered what the difference is. It’s generally acceptable to use the terms interchangeably, so we use “microbiome” here at Ask the Scientists. “Microbiome” is well-recognized throughout the scientific community and has become the preferred term. Likely because it’s the most comprehensive. Technically “microbiome” and “microbiota” are slightly different.
- In people, the microbiota is the whole community of microbe species found at a particular site on the human body. This includes fungi, bacteria, viruses, etc., that live in one place. In other words, you have a gut microbiota, a skin microbiota, a urinary tract microbiota, etc. The communities of microbes on your body are generally stable…but they’re also variable. Every site on your body has a different makeup. And it can fluctuate over time.
- The microbiome is all of the microbes in the microbiota plus their genes. The microbiome is vast. It has been estimated that there are 3.3 million unique genes in the human gut microbiome alone, compared to about 22,000 genes present in the entire human cell genome!