Little was known about the development of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract microbiota, until recently, because of difficulties in obtaining sufficient sequence information from enough people or time points. Now, with decreased costs of DNA sequencing and improved bioinformatic tools, we can compare GI tract bacterial communities among individuals, of all ages from infancy to adulthood. Some key recent findings are that the initial bacterial community, even in the GI tract, depends strongly on delivery mode; that the process of early development of the microbiota is highly unstable and idiosyncratic; that the microbiota differs considerably among children from different countries; and that older adults have substantially different GI tract communities than younger adults, indicating that the GI tract microbiota can change throughout life. We relate these observations to different models of evolution including the evolution of senescence and suggest that probiotics be selected based on patient age. Studies of the microbiota in older people might tell us which probiotics could increase longevity. Drug metabolism varies among individuals with different microbial communities, so age- and region-specific clinical trials are required to ensure safety and efficacy.
Copyright © 2011 AGA Institute. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.