"Dubbed as a person’s “last organ”, the human microbiome takes on multiple key roles in the smooth operation of the human body. The importance of the microbiome has spurred further research on the subject, as well as boosting the “microbiome market” and private investment into companies and start-ups. The microbiome has now grown to become a popular topic not only in the scientific community and industries, but among the general public as well, with consumers now looking for microbiome enrichment for agriculture, food and nutrition, health, and even cosmetic benefits.
What is microbiome & why is it important?
To understand the microbiome concept and evolution, first, let’s look at the past milestones of microbiome research and development.
Microbiome research originated in microbiology and dated back to the seventieth century1 as seen in the timeline in fig. 1. The research started with medical microbiology, prompted by infectious diseases that affected population throughout history, as well as food microbiology. The research expanded to microbial ecology in the eighteenth century, with the works of Sergei Winogradsky who realized the importance of studying microorganisms in their natural source instead of solely isolating the culture. In the early nineteenth century, studies of the gut microbiota and human hosts indicate significant influences on human health and degeneration, with Metchnikoff hypothesizing that, “there is a link between the gut flora and the senile degeneration”3. An observation was also found during this time that there is an influence of dietary intake on the gut flora, namely the bacteria found in fermented food. In particular, Metchnikoff suggested that longevity among Bulgarians could be attributed to the beneficial lactobacilli bacteria in yogurt4. Although yogurt has been around ever since the Neolithic period, this drove the heightened interest in yogurt, and it could soon be purchased in pharmacies, before becoming a household food item."