The Unique Impact of COVID-19 on Human Gut Microbiome Research

Front Med (Lausanne). 2021 Mar 16:8:652464. doi: 10.3389/fmed.2021.652464. eCollection 2021.


The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has disrupted clinical trials globally, with unique implications for research into the human gut microbiome. In this mini-review, we explore the direct and indirect influences of the pandemic on the gut microbiome and how these can affect research and clinical trials. We explore the direct bidirectional relationships between the COVID-19 virus and the gut and lung microbiomes. We then consider the significant indirect effects of the pandemic, such as repeated lockdowns, increased hand hygiene, and changes to mood and diet, that could all lead to longstanding changes to the gut microbiome at an individual and a population level. Together, these changes may affect long term microbiome research, both in observational as well as in population studies, requiring urgent attention. Finally, we explore the unique implications for clinical trials using faecal microbiota transplants (FMT), which are increasingly investigated as potential treatments for a range of diseases. The pandemic introduces new barriers to participation in trials, while the direct and indirect effects laid out above can present a confounding factor. This affects recruitment and sample size, as well as study design and statistical analyses. Therefore, the potential impact of the pandemic on gut microbiome research is significant and needs to be specifically addressed by the research community and funders.

Keywords: COVID-19; clinical trials; faecal microbiota transfer; gut microbiome; microbiome research.

Publication types

  • Review