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The gut microbiome has a significant influence on various diseases ranging from malnutrition to chronic inflammation. It is largely shaped by environmental factors, like diet and lifestyle. How the genetics of the individual affect the composition of the microbiome, however, was largely unknown. RUTH LEY explains in this video that the research team addressed this question by comparing the microbiome of over 1000 twin pairs based on DNA extracted from their stool samples. These comparisons allowed the researchers to compile a list of heritable microbes, top of which is a family of bacteria called the Christensenellaceae. One key finding was that the microbiome of lean individuals contains more of this type of bacteria as compared to the microbiome of obese people. Further experiments showed that, if Christensenellaceae are given to germ free mice, their amount of body fat is reduced. These results might lead to novel therapeutic approaches to obesity and associated diseases.


Ruth Ley is Director of the Department of Microbiome Science at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany. In her research she investigates the co-evolution of humans with their microbiomes and explores how host genetics affect the composition of the microbiome.
For her scientific achievements Ley has received a number of awards including the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award in 2010, and the ISME Young Investigators Award in 2014. In 2016, she was appointed Honorary Professor at the Faculty of Medicine of Tübingen University.


Max Planck Institute for Biology Tübingen

Basic research at the Max Planck Institute for Biology Tübingen addresses fundamental questions in microbial, algal, plant and animal biology, including the interaction between different organisms. The approaches we use range from biochemistry, cell and developmental biology to evolutionary and ecological genetics, functional genomics and bioinformatics. The institute currently has five active departments, each led by a Director

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Original publication

Human Genetics Shape the Gut Microbiome

others, Knight Rob, Goodrich Julia K., Waters Jillian L., Poole Angela C., Sutter Jessica L., Koren Omry, Blekhman Ran, Beaumont Michelle, Van Treuren William, Bell Jordana T. and Ley Ruth E.
Published in 2014

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Metabolic Syndrome and Altered Gut Microbiota in Mice Lacking Toll-like Receptor 5

Knight Rob, Cullender Tyler C., Ley Ruth E., Vijay-Kumar Matam, Aitken Jesse D., Carvalho Frederic A., Mwangi Simon, Srinivasan Shanthi, Sitaraman Shanthi V. and Gewirtz Andrew T.
Published in 2010

Evolution of Mammals and Their Gut Microbes

others, Knight Rob, Ley Ruth E., Hamady Micah, Lozupone Catherine, Turnbaugh Peter J., Ramey Rob Roy, Bircher J Stephen, Schlegel Michael L., Tucker Tammy A. and Schrenzel Mark D.
Published in 2008

Microbial Ecology: Human Gut Microbes Associated with Obesity

Ley Ruth E., Turnbaugh Peter J., Klein Samuel and Gordon Jeffrey I.
Published in 2006

Ecological and Evolutionary Forces Shaping Microbial Diversity in the Human Intestine

Ley Ruth E., Gordon Jeffrey I. and Peterson Daniel A.
Published in 2006

Host-bacterial Mutualism in the Human Intestine

Ley Ruth E., Gordon Jeffrey I., Peterson Daniel A., Bäckhed Fredrik and Sonnenburg Justin L.
Published in 2005
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