At the Interface of Human Genomics and Microbiome Research

Based at The University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, we are part of the Departments of Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development, and Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior

Our Lab

We study human genomic factors that control and interact with the microbiome. We utilize high-throughput genomics technologies and employ computational, statistical, network-theory, data mining, and population genetic analytical approaches, with the goal of understanding how we interact with our microbial communities, how host-microbe interactions affect human disease, and how the symbiosis between us and our microbiome evolved.

  Selected Recent Papers

Gut microbiome of coexisting BaAka pygmies and Bantu reflects gradients of traditional subsistence patterns
A. Gomez, K. Petrzelkova, M. B. Burns, C. J. Yeoman, K. R. Amato, K. Vlckova, D. Modry, A. Todd, C. A. Jost Robinson, M. Remis, M. Torralba, E. Morton, J. D. Umana, F. Carbonero, H. R. Gaskins, K. E. Nelson, B. A. Wilson, R. M. Stumpf, B. A. White, S. R. Leigh, and R. Blekhman.
Cell Reports, 2016
Host genetic variation impacts microbiome composition across human body sites.
R. Blekhman, J. K. Goodrich, K. Huang, Q. Sun, R. Bukowski, J. T. Bell, T. D. Spector, A. Keinan, R. E. Ley, D. Gevers, and A. G. Clark.
Genome Biology, 2015
Variation in rural African gut microbiota is strongly correlated with colonization by Entamoeba and subsistence.
E. R. Morton, J. Lynch, A. Froment, S. Lafosse , E. Heyer , M. Przeworski, R. Blekhman, and L. Segurel.
PLOS Genetics, 2015
Virulence genes are a signature of the microbiome in the colorectal tumor microenvironment.
M. B. Burns, J. Lynch, T. K. Starr, D. Knights, and R. Blekhman.
Genome Medicine, 2015


Social networks predict gut microbiome composition in wild baboons.
J. Tung, L. B. Barreiro, M. B. Burns, J.-C. Grenier, J. Lynch, L. E. Grieneisen, J. Altmann, S. C. Alberts, R. Blekhman, and E. A. Archie.
eLife, 2015


Human genetics shape the gut microbiome.
J. K. Goodrich, J. L. Waters, A. C. Poole, J. L. Sutter, O. Koren, R. Blekhman, M. Beaumont, W. Van Treuren, R. Knight, J. T. Bell, T. Spector, A. G. Clark, and R. E. Ley.
Cell, 2014


Comparative metabolomics in primates reveals the effects of diet and gene regulatory variation on metabolic divergence.
R. Blekhman, G. H. Perry, S. Shahbaz, A. G. Clark, O. Fiehn, and Y. Gilad.
Scientific Reports, 2014

  Our Work in the Media

  • Is Gut Science Biased? By Anna Maria Barry-Jester, FiveThirtyEight, May 2016
  • Microbes Meet Cancer. Understanding cancer’s relationship with the human microbiome could transform immune-modulating therapies. By Kate Yandell, The Scientist, April 2016
  • Shifts in the gut microbiome between traditional and modern human populations.
    Media coverage of our February 2016 paper:
    - Giving Up Hunting and Gathering Changed Our Gut Microbiome. Newsweek
    - The Microbiomes of Indigenous Peoples Are Different--Does It Matter? by Kevin Bonham, Scientific American
    - Study Detects Gut Microbiome Differences in African Agriculturist, Hunter-Gatherer Populations. GenomeWeb
    - Human Gut Microbiome Evolution: From Hunter-Gatherers to a Western Lifestyle. Discover
  • Host genetic variation impacts microbiome composition.
    Our September 2015 paper was covered by several media outlets, including:
    - Genetics, Immunity, and the Microbiome, by Karen Zusi, The Scientist
    - Who is the master of your microbial domain? by Jason Tetro, Popular Science
    - Host genetic architecture and the landscape of microbiome composition: humans weigh in. By Andrew Benson, Genome Biology Research Highlight
  • The microbiome of colorectal tumors.
    Our June 2015 paper was covered by several media outlets, including:
    - New colon cancer culprit found in gut microbiome. Science Daily
    - Microbiome Study of Colorectal Cancer Uncovers Signature of Virulence Genes. Genome Web
    - U research furthers options for colorectal treatment and prevention. Minnesota Daily
    - Linking the microbiome and colorectal cancer: an author Q+A. BioMed Central, On Medicine
  • Surprises Emerge As More Hunter-Gatherer Microbiomes Come In.
    Coverage of Elise's recent paper on the rural African microbiome, by Ed Yong, National Geographic, March 2015
  • Human Genetics Shape the Gut Microbiome.
    Our October 2014 paper with Ruth Ley, Andy Clark, Tim Spector and others was covered by several media outlets, including:
    - Genetics may foster bugs that keep you thin. Science magazine
    - The Most Heritable Gut Bacterium is… Wait, What is That? National Geographic / Not Exactly Rocket Science
    - Gut Microbiome Heritability. The Scientist
    - Body weight heavily influenced by gut microbes: Genes shape body weight by affecting gut microbes. Science Daily
  • The Message in Microbiomes.
    University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences News, November 2013
  • People’s Genes Welcome Their Microbes.
    Science News, November 2013
  • It’s in the Genes.
    The Scientist, October 2013
  • Gene Variants in Immune System Pathways Correlated With Composition of Microbes of Human Body.
    Science Daily, October 2013
  • Genes May Influence Body's Bacteria.
    Science News, May 2012
  • Biology of Genomes Presentation Describes Hunt for Microbiome-Related Host Genes.
    GenomeWeb, May 2012
  • Why Humans are More Sensitive to Certain Viruses: Primate Immune System Differences Identified.
    Science Daily, December 2010
  • What Makes a Man a Man?
    Science Life, January 2010
  • Genetics: Sex and the Cortex
    Nature (Research Highlights), July 2008

  Lab News