Scientists Say: Microbiome | Science News for Students

Scientists Say: Microbiome

These are the bacteria, viruses and fungi that live in and on other living organisms
Jan 8, 2018 — 6:30 am EST
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This is a microscope slide of the cells of a plant. The speckled band between the top and bottom layers is filled with bacteria, part of the plant’s microbiome.
Curtis Clark/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Microbiome (noun, “MY-crow-BYE-ome”)

This word refers to the community of microorganisms — critters too small to see with the naked eye — that live on or in other living things. All plants and animals have a microbiome. And it isn’t just made of bacteria. Microbiomes can contain bacteria, of course. But they also include viruses, fungi and other tiny organisms such as protists and archaea.

These microscopic communities aren’t bad. Some of the organisms in the microbiome may cause disease, but others may just hang out harmlessly, or even provide a benefit to their host.

Scientists also use the word “microbiota” (MY-crow-BYE-oh-tah) to refer to microbiomes.

In a sentence

A person’s microbiome may determine whether white or whole wheat bread is better for them.

Check out the full list of Scientists Say here

Power Words

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archaea  (singular: archaeon)  A domain of life that includes single-celled organisms. Although archaea superficially resemble bacteria, they are distinct. Archaea inhabit many harsh environments.

bacteria     (singular: bacterium) Single-celled organisms. These dwell nearly everywhere on Earth, from the bottom of the sea to inside other living organisms (such as plants and animals).

host      (in biology and medicine) The organism (or environment) in which some other thing resides. Humans may be a temporary host for food-poisoning germs or other infective agents.

microbiome     The scientific term for the entirety of the microorganisms — bacteria, viruses, fungi and more — that take up permanent residence within the body of a human or other animal.

microbiota     The microorganisms that live in a particular place or geological period. Scientists call the entirety of the microorganisms in a human or other animal its microbiome.

microorganism     A living thing that is too small to see with the unaided eye, including bacteria, some fungi and many other organisms such as amoebas. Most consist of a single cell.

microscopic     An adjective for things too small to be seen by the unaided eye. It takes a microscope to view objects this small, such as bacteria or other one-celled organisms.

organism     Any living thing, from elephants and plants to bacteria and other types of single-celled life.

protist     A broad group of mostly single-celled organisms that are neither plants nor animals. Some, like algae, may appear plant-like. Those known as protozoans may appear animal-like. And still others appear fungi-like.