Human genome-wide association studies (GWASs) have recurrently estimated lower heritability estimates than familial studies. Many explanations have been suggested to explain these lower estimates, including that a substantial proportion of genetic variation and gene-by-environment interactions are unmeasured in typical GWASs. The human microbiome is potentially related to both of these explanations, but it has been more commonly considered as a source of unmeasured genetic variation.

In particular, it has recently been argued that the genetic variation within the human microbiome should be included when estimating trait heritability. We outline issues with this argument, which in its strictest form depends on the holobiont model of human-microbiome interactions. Instead, we argue that the microbiome could be leveraged to help control for environmental variation across a population, although that remains to be determined. We discuss potential approaches that could be explored to determine whether integrating microbiome sequencing data into GWASs is useful.

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