Biogeography and individuality shape function in the human skin metagenome

Nature. 2014 Oct 2;514(7520):59-64. doi: 10.1038/nature13786.


The varied topography of human skin offers a unique opportunity to study how the body's microenvironments influence the functional and taxonomic composition of microbial communities. Phylogenetic marker gene-based studies have identified many bacteria and fungi that colonize distinct skin niches. Here metagenomic analyses of diverse body sites in healthy humans demonstrate that local biogeography and strong individuality define the skin microbiome. We developed a relational analysis of bacterial, fungal and viral communities, which showed not only site specificity but also individual signatures. We further identified strain-level variation of dominant species as heterogeneous and multiphyletic. Reference-free analyses captured the uncharacterized metagenome through the development of a multi-kingdom gene catalogue, which was used to uncover genetic signatures of species lacking reference genomes. This work is foundational for human disease studies investigating inter-kingdom interactions, metabolic changes and strain tracking, and defines the dual influence of biogeography and individuality on microbial composition and function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Bacteriophages / genetics
  • Bacteriophages / isolation & purification
  • Female
  • Genome, Bacterial / genetics
  • Genome, Fungal / genetics
  • Genome, Viral / genetics
  • Genomics
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metagenome* / genetics
  • Phylogeny
  • Propionibacterium acnes / genetics
  • Propionibacterium acnes / isolation & purification
  • Propionibacterium acnes / virology
  • Skin / microbiology*
  • Skin / virology*
  • Staphylococcus epidermidis / genetics
  • Staphylococcus epidermidis / isolation & purification
  • Staphylococcus epidermidis / virology
  • Symbiosis

Associated data

  • BioProject/46333
  • dbGaP/PHS000266