Humans and animals are filled with symbiotic communities of microorganisms that often fill key roles in normal physiological function and also influence susceptibility to disease. Predicting how these communities of organisms respond to perturbations--anything that alters the systems’ function--is one of microbiologists’ essential challenges. Researchers have suggested a new paradigm, one that has key implications for a more personalized approach to antibiotic therapy, management of chronic diseases and other aspects of medical care. Surveying the literature on microbial changes caused by perturbation, they found stochastic, or random, changes to be a common occurrence, one that researchers have tended to discard as "noise" rather than report. Scientists found patterns consistent with the new paradigm effects in a range of systems, from corals exposed to above-average temperatures to the lungs of smokers to patients suffering from HIV/AIDS.
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