Practical considerations for large-scale gut microbiome studies

FEMS Microbiol Rev. 2017 Aug 1;41(Supp_1):S154-S167. doi: 10.1093/femsre/fux027.


First insights on the human gut microbiome have been gained from medium-sized, cross-sectional studies. However, given the modest portion of explained variance of currently identified covariates and the small effect size of gut microbiota modulation strategies, upscaling seems essential for further discovery and characterisation of the multiple influencing factors and their relative contribution. In order to guide future research projects and standardisation efforts, we here review currently applied collection and preservation methods for gut microbiome research. We discuss aspects such as sample quality, applicable omics techniques, user experience and time and cost efficiency. In addition, we evaluate the protocols of a large-scale microbiome cohort initiative, the Flemish Gut Flora Project, to give an idea of perspectives, and pitfalls of large-scale faecal sampling studies. Although cryopreservation can be regarded as the gold standard, freezing protocols generally require more resources due to cold chain management. However, here we show that much can be gained from an optimised transport chain and sample aliquoting before freezing. Other protocols can be useful as long as they preserve the microbial signature of a sample such that relevant conclusions can be drawn regarding the research question, and the obtained data are stable and reproducible over time.

Keywords: cold chain management; faecal sample preservation; gut microbiome; user experience faecal sampling.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cryopreservation / methods*
  • Cryoprotective Agents / pharmacology
  • Feces / microbiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Intestines / microbiology*


  • Cryoprotective Agents