Review: Tools for the tract: understanding the functionality of the gastrointestinal tract

P.P. Kovatcheva, E.G. Zoetendal, K. Venema, W.M. de Vos, H. Smidt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The human gastrointestinal tract comprises a series of complex and dynamic organs ranging from the stomach to the distal colon, which harbor immense microbial assemblages that are known to be vital for human health. Until recently, most of the details concerning our gut microbiota remained obscure. Over the past several years, however, a number of crucial technological and conceptual innovations have been introduced to shed more light on the composition and functionality of human gut microbiota. Recently developed high throughput approaches, including next-generation sequencing technologies and phylogenetic microarrays targeting ribosomal RNA gene sequences, allow for comprehensive analysis of the diversity and dynamics of the gut microbiota composition. Nevertheless, most of the microbes especially in the human large intestine still remain uncultured, and the in situ functions of distinct groups of the gut microbiota are therefore largely unknown, but pivotal to the understanding of their role in human physiology. Apart from functional and metagenomics approaches, stable isotope probing is a promising tool to link the metabolic activity and diversity of microbial communities, including yet uncultured microbes, in a complex environment. Advancements in current stable isotope probing approaches integrated with the application of high-throughput diagnostic microarray-based phylogenetic profiling and metabolic flux analysis should facilitate the understanding of human microbial ecology and will enable the development of innovative strategies to treat or prevent intestinal diseases of as yet unknown etiology
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-22
JournalTherapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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