Our intestine is the site of an extraordinarily complex and dynamic environmentally transmitted consortial symbiosis. The molecular foundations of beneficial symbiotic host-bacterial relationships in the gut are being revealed in part from studies of simplified models of this ecosystem, where germ-free mice are colonized with specified members of the microbial community, and in part from comparisons of the genomes of members of the intestinal microbiota. The results emphasize the contributions of symbionts to postnatal gut development and host physiology, as well as the remarkable strategies these microorganisms have evolved to sustain their alliances. These points are illustrated by the human-Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron symbiosis. Interdisciplinary studies of the effects of the intestinal environment on genome structure and function should provide important new insights about how microbes and humans have coevolved mutually beneficial relationships and new perspectives about the foundations of our health.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10452-10459
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number18
StatePublished - Sep 2 2003


  • Ecogenomics
  • Environmental sensing
  • Glycobiome
  • Gnotobiotic mice
  • Gut microbial ecology


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