Hooks K. & O’Malley M. (2017) Dysbiosis and Its Discontents. mBio 8:e01492-17. (Open Access).
Dysbiosis is a key term in human microbiome research, especially when microbiome patterns are associated with disease states. Although some questions have been raised about how this term is applied, its use continues undiminished in the literature. We investigate the ways in which microbiome researchers discuss dysbiosis and then assess the impact of different concepts of dysbiosis on microbiome research. After an overview of the term’s historical roots, we conduct quantitative and qualitative analyses of a large selection of contemporary dysbiosis statements. We categorize both short definitions and longer conceptual statements about dysbiosis. Further analysis allows us to identify the problematic implications of how dysbiosis is used, particularly with regard to causal hypotheses and normal-abnormal distinctions. We suggest that researchers should reflect carefully on the ways in which they discuss dysbiosis, in order for the field to continue to develop greater predictive scope and explanatory depth.