Genome-microbiome interplay provides insight into the determinants of the human blood metabolome

February 6, 2022

Variation in the blood metabolome is intimately related to human health. Prior work has shown that host genetics and gut microbiome composition, combined, explain sizable, but orthogonal, components of the overall variance in blood metabolomic profiles. However, few details are known about the interplay between genetics and the microbiome in explaining variation on a metabolite-by-metabolite level. Here, we performed analyses of variance for each of the 945 blood metabolites that were robustly detected across a cohort of 2,049 individuals, while controlling for a number of relevant covariates, like sex, age, and genetic ancestry. Over 60% of the detected blood metabolites were significantly associated with either host genetics or the gut microbiome, with more than half of these associations driven solely by the microbiome and around 30% under hybrid genetic-microbiome control. The variances explained by genetics and the microbiome for each metabolite were indeed largely additive, although subtle, but significant, non-additivity was detected. We found that interaction effects, where a metabolitemicrobe association was specific to a particular genetic background, were quite common, albeit with modest effect sizes. The outputs of our integrated genetic-microbiome regression models provide novel biological insights into the processes governing the composition of the blood metabolome. For example, we found that unconjugated secondary bile acids were solely associated with the microbiome, while their conjugated forms were under strong host genetic control. Overall, our results reveal which components of the blood metabolome are under strong genetic control, which are more dependent on gut microbiome composition, and which are dependent upon both. This knowledge will help to guide targeted interventions designed to alter the composition of the blood metabolome.