Microbiota succession throughout life from the cradle to the grave

Nat Rev Microbiol. 2022 Dec;20(12):707-720. doi: 10.1038/s41579-022-00768-z. Epub 2022 Jul 29.


Associations between age and the human microbiota are robust and reproducible. The microbial composition at several body sites can predict human chronological age relatively accurately. Although it is largely unknown why specific microorganisms are more abundant at certain ages, human microbiota research has elucidated a series of microbial community transformations that occur between birth and death. In this Review, we explore microbial succession in the healthy human microbiota from the cradle to the grave. We discuss the stages from primary succession at birth, to disruptions by disease or antibiotic use, to microbial expansion at death. We address how these successions differ by body site and by domain (bacteria, fungi or viruses). We also review experimental tools that microbiota researchers use to conduct this work. Finally, we discuss future directions for studying the microbiota's relationship with age, including designing consistent, well-powered, longitudinal studies, performing robust statistical analyses and improving characterization of non-bacterial microorganisms.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Fungi
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Microbiota*