Despite identification of numerous associations between microbiomes and diseases, the complexity of the human microbiome has hindered identification of individual species and strains that are causative in host phenotype or disease. Uncovering causative microbes is vital to fully understand disease processes and to harness the potential therapeutic benefits of microbiota manipulation. Developments in sequencing technology, animal models, and bacterial culturing have facilitated the discovery of specific microbes that impact the host and are beginning to advance the characterization of host-microbiome interaction mechanisms. We summarize the historical and contemporary experimental approaches taken to uncover microbes from the microbiota that affect host biology and describe examples of commensals that have specific effects on the immune system, inflammation, and metabolism. There is still much to learn, and we lay out challenges faced by the field and suggest potential remedies for common pitfalls encountered in the hunt for causative commensal microbes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-242
Number of pages20
JournalAnnual Review of Microbiology
StatePublished - 2021


  • gnotobiotic animals
  • immunoregulation
  • live biotherapeutic products
  • microbiota


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