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, 14 (8), e1002533

Revised Estimates for the Number of Human and Bacteria Cells in the Body


Revised Estimates for the Number of Human and Bacteria Cells in the Body

Ron Sender et al. PLoS Biol.


Reported values in the literature on the number of cells in the body differ by orders of magnitude and are very seldom supported by any measurements or calculations. Here, we integrate the most up-to-date information on the number of human and bacterial cells in the body. We estimate the total number of bacteria in the 70 kg "reference man" to be 3.8·1013. For human cells, we identify the dominant role of the hematopoietic lineage to the total count (≈90%) and revise past estimates to 3.0·1013 human cells. Our analysis also updates the widely-cited 10:1 ratio, showing that the number of bacteria in the body is actually of the same order as the number of human cells, and their total mass is about 0.2 kg.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Fig 1
Fig 1. Back of the envelope estimate of the number of cells in an adult human body based on a characteristic volume and mass.
Fig 2
Fig 2. The distribution of the number of human cells by cell type.
Representation as a Voronoi tree map where polygon area is proportional to the number of cells. Visualization performed using the online tool at
Fig 3
Fig 3. Distribution of cell number and mass for different cell types in the human body (for a 70 kg adult man).
The upper bar displays the number of cells, while the lower bar displays the contribution from each of the main cell types comprising the overall cellular body mass (not including extracellular mass that adds another ≈24 kg). For comparison, the contribution of bacteria is shown on the right, amounting to only 0.2 kg, which is about 0.3% of the body weight.

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Grant support

This work was funded by the European Research Council (Project NOVCARBFIX 646827,; Dana and Yossie Hollander; Helmsley Charitable Foundation; The Larson Charitable Foundation; The Estate of David Arthur Barton; The Anthony Stalbow Charitable Trust, and Stella Gelerman, Canada. RM is the Charles and Louise Gartner professional chair and an EMBO young investigator program member. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.