MICROBIOME VS MICROBIOTA – Although the terminology used for microbiome and microbiota are often used interchangeably, they are in fact different in terms of description and function and sometimes the meaning between the two can be a little difficult to differentiate.

Lets begin with the human microbiota. The human body is host to a vast number of microorganisms that consist of bacteria, fungi, viruses, archaea and protozoans. These microorganisms together constitute the microbiota. The microbiota is therefore the entire population of these microorganisms that colonise a particular location or organism. Such locations can be explained as the human body microbiota, the gut microbiota, the skin microbiota, oral microbiota, respiratory microbiota, vaginal or genital microbiota etc.
The human microbiota is the ecological communities that live in and on our bodies.

The collection of our bacteria genes in our microbiota is called the microbiome. Hence our human microbiome constitutes all the genes that our microbiota contains. It is the entire genetic makeup of the human microbiota.
The human microbiome is therefore explained as the genetic composition of our microbiota.
Changes in our human microbiome affect the normal function of the human body and disease development.
The genes of our microbiota interact with the human genome to function together, helping to improve human health and fight against diseases. These genes are involved in numerous beneficial functions that protect the body such as digesting food, preventing disease-causing pathogens from invading the body, and synthesizing essential nutrients and vitamins.
Laboratory testing of DNA sequences of microbial genes (the microbiome) allows us to better explore and identify particular species and what proportions exist there for health and disease.

The terms microbiota and microbiome are sometimes used interchangeably. However, there is a difference between them. Microbiota refers to the entire population of microorganisms colonized in a particular location. Microbiome refers to the genetic material of the microbiota of a particular location or the entire collection of genes of microbiota. This is the main difference between microbiome and microbiota.

Still confused?
Let’s create an analogy to better understand the difference between microbiome and microbiota.
Imagine visiting a super warehouse computer store filled with thousands of computers each packaged in their own box with their own operating manual that describes all the computers components and functions. The manual may be better described in this situation as the blueprint information source.

In this analogy, the computers are the different microorganisms, and the super warehouse store is the environment where they live (for example, the human microbiome). Collectively, all the computers in the store make up the “microbiota”. Meanwhile, the manual blueprints in the box with the computer make up the “microbiome”.

Microbiota describes the actual bacteria, and microbiome is the bacteria AND their genes.
The terms microbiota and microbiome are used so interchangeably across many professions so it’s easy to think they mean exactly the same thing. While they are not exactly identical, don’t panic if you refer to one over the other because unless you need to write up a scientific research document that requires accuracy with terminologies to measure and analyse data sequencing, you don’t need to worry about the subtle differences between them. Whether it be the human ‘microbiome’ or ‘microbiota’ the subject remains the same in terms of the trillions of microbial cells in your body.

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2. Ursell, Luke K., Jessica L. Metcalf, Laura Wegener Parfrey, and Rob Knight. “Defining the Human Microbiome.” Nutrition reviews. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2012. Web. Available here. 16 June 2017
3. MacGill, Markus. “What is the gut microbiota? What is the human microbiome?”Medical News Today. MediLexicon International, 24 Mar. 2016. Web. Available here. 17 June 2017.
4. Difference Between Microbiome and Microbiota. June 21, 2017 Posted by Dr.Samanthi Web 16 April, 2023
5. What’s The Difference Between Microbiome And Microbiota? Atlas Blog. 14 January, 2023. Web 16 April
6. What is the Difference Between Microbiome and Microbiota? Allucent December 8, 2020

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