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Revised estimates for the number of human and bacteria cells in the body

By Ron Sender, Shai Fuchs, Ron Milo

Posted 06 Jan 2016
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/036103 (published DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1002533)

We critically revisit the ″common knowledge″ that bacteria outnumber human cells by a ratio of at least 10:1 in the human body. We found the total number of bacteria in the ″reference man″ to be 3.9·1013, with an uncertainty (SEM) of 25%, and a variation over the population (CV) of 52%. For human cells we identify the dominant role of the hematopoietic lineage to the total count of body cells (≈90%), and revise past estimates to reach a total of 3.0·1013 human cells in the 70 kg ″reference man″ with 2% uncertainty and 14% CV. Our analysis updates the widely-cited 10:1 ratio, showing that the number of bacteria in our bodies is actually of the same order as the number of human cells. Indeed, the numbers are similar enough that each defecation event may flip the ratio to favor human cells over bacteria.

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