The Use of Defined Microbial Communities To Model Host-Microbe Interactions in the Human Gut

Janneke Elzinga*, John van der Oost, Willem M. de Vos, Hauke Smidt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

51 Citations (Scopus)


The human intestinal ecosystem is characterized by a complex interplay between different microorganisms and the host. The high variation within the human population further complicates the quest toward an adequate understanding of this complex system that is so relevant to human health and well-being. To study host-microbe interactions, defined synthetic bacterial communities have been introduced in gnotobiotic animals or in sophisticated in vitro cell models. This review reinforces that our limited understanding has often hampered the appropriate design of defined communities that represent the human gut microbiota. On top of this, some communities have been applied to in vivo models that differ appreciably from the human host. In this review, the advantages and disadvantages of using defined microbial communities are outlined, and suggestions for future improvement of host-microbe interaction models are provided. With respect to the host, technological advances, such as the development of a gut-on-a-chip system and intestinal organoids, may contribute to more-accurate in vitro models of the human host. With respect to the microbiota, due to the increasing availability of representative cultured isolates and their genomic sequences, our understanding and controllability of the human gut "core microbiota" are likely to increase. Taken together, these advancements could further unravel the molecular mechanisms underlying the human gut microbiota superorganism. Such a gain of insight would provide a solid basis for the improvement of pre-, pro-, and synbiotics as well as the development of new therapeutic microbes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-40
JournalMicrobiology and Molecular Biology Reviews
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 13 Mar 2019


  • animal model
  • gut-on-a-chip
  • in vitro model
  • intestinal microbiota
  • minimal microbiota


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