Causal discovery for the microbiome

Lancet Microbe. 2022 Nov;3(11):e881-e887. doi: 10.1016/S2666-5247(22)00186-0. Epub 2022 Sep 21.


Measurement and manipulation of the microbiome is generally considered to have great potential for understanding the causes of complex diseases in humans, developing new therapies, and finding preventive measures. Many studies have found significant associations between the microbiome and various diseases; however, Koch's classical postulates remind us about the importance of causative reasoning when considering the relationship between microbes and a disease manifestation. Although causal discovery in observational microbiome data faces many challenges, methodological advances in causal structure learning have improved the potential of data-driven prediction of causal effects in large-scale biological systems. In this Personal View, we show the capability of existing methods for inferring causal effects from metagenomic data, and we highlight ways in which the introduction of causal structures that are more flexible than existing structures offers new opportunities for causal reasoning. Our observations suggest that microbiome research can further benefit from tools developed in the past 5 years in causal discovery and learn from their applications elsewhere.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Causality
  • Humans
  • Metagenome
  • Metagenomics / methods
  • Microbiota*