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microbiome

Printable Version
Pronunciation: mai-krê-bai-owm Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A community of microorganisms inhabiting a specific environment or ecosystem, especially that of the body. 2. The collective genomes of such a community.

Notes: Today's word entered the biological vocabulary in the late 1940s. Biome "plant or animal community in a specific climatic region" has been around since the turn of the century. The adjective is microbiomic. Microbiomics refers to the scientific study of microbiomes.

In Play: Microbiome refers to the totality of microscopic life of an ecosystem, usually the human body: "My microbiome must be unhappy; I'm itching all over my body." We take probiotics to encourage the microbiome of our digestive system. Our metabolism equals the combined capabilities of our own genome and our microbiome.

Word History: Today's Good Word was created in the US in the 1940s by combining Anglicized Greek components: micro- "small, petty, slight" + bio- "life" + -(o)me, a suffix used in biology to indicate a totality. The Greek adjective micros could be related to Latin mica "grain". Since antonyms are known to be confused (cold and scald, black and French blanc "white" come from the same Proto-Indo-European source), it might just as well be related to Greek megas "great, huge". We know quite a bit more about bios "life". It comes from a PIE word gwei- "to live". This word was realized in Latin as vivere "to live", visible in multiple English borrowings: vivacious, revive, vivid among them. English also inherited the PIE word via its Germanic ancestors as quick "that part of the body most sensitive to pain" as well as "alive", as in 'quick sand' and 'the quick and the dead'. (Let's now show our gratitude to long-time contributor Lew Jury for quickly recognizing microbiome as a likely Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword, alphaDictionary.com

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