A recent letter published in Nature, by Dr. Trevor Lawley and colleagues from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton (United Kingdom), has revealed that bacteria from the human intestine that were formerly considered to be unculturable can be grown and characterized phenotypically.


Scientists grew and catalogued more than 130 bacteria from the human intestine that were formerly considered to be unculturable. First author Browne, along with colleagues, developed a new process based on targeted phenotypic culturing linked to large-scale whole-genome sequencing, phylogenetic analysis, and computational modelling that allowed characterization of functions and phenotypes of indigenous bacteria. For the first time, researchers looked at the proportion of bacteria sensitive to oxygen that form spores within the gut, which until now have been extremely difficult to isolate and study. According to the researchers, at least 50-60% of the bacterial genera from the intestinal microbiota of a healthy individual produce strong spores, which may contribute to host-to-host disease transmission.


According to Browne: “By developing this new process to isolate gastrointestinal bacteria, we were able to sequence their genomes to understand more about their biology. We can also store them for long periods of time, making them available for further research”.


In conclusion, by using a new process of culturing, archiving, and characterizing the intestinal microbiota, researchers have expanded the library of culturable bacteria.




Browne HP, Forster SC, Anonye BO, et al. Culturing of ‘unculturable’ human microbiota reveals novel taxa and extensive sporulation. Nature. 2016; 533(7604):543-6. doi:10.1038/nature17645.