Our understanding of the vast collection of microbes that live on and inside us (microbiota) and their collective genes (microbiome) has been revolutionized by culture-independent “metagenomic” techniques and DNA sequencing technologies. Most of our microbes live in our gut, where they function as a metabolic organ and provide attributes not encoded in our human genome. Metagenomic studies are revealing shared and distinctive features of microbial communities inhabiting different humans. A central question in psychiatry is the relative role of genes and environment in shaping behavior. The human microbiome serves as the interface between our genes and our history of environmental exposures; explorations of our microbiomes thus offer the possibility of providing new insights into our neurodevelopment and our behavioral phenotypes by affecting complex processes such as inter- and intra personal variations in cognition, personality, mood, sleep, and eating behavior, and perhaps even a variety of neuropsychiatric diseases ranging from affective disorders to autism. Better understanding of microbiome-encoded pathways for xenobiotic metabolism also has important implications for improving the efficacy of pharmacologic interventions with neuromodulator agents
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