A consortium of scientists from the United States announce that they have completed an effort to map the microbiome of healthy humans. This momentous breakthrough will enable researchers to conduct more in-depth studies of the microorganisms inside the human body, and the roles they play.
Grasping the importance of the microbiome is not possible without first understanding that there are ten times more microorganisms than cells in your body. Most of these species are not parasitic, but live with us in a state of symbiosis.
This means that we provide them with nutrients and an environment to live in, while they allow us to breakdown and digest foods that our gut would otherwise be unable to process. These microbes are found in the gut, skin, mouth and other parts of the body, and number in the trillions.
They play very important roles in the human body, but deciphering exactly what each species does has thus far proven very difficult. One of the reasons for this is that scientists had no idea what the microbiome of a healthy human looked like.
Microbiome is the term scientists use to refer to the totality of microorganisms in the human body, as well as the interactions they are involved in, both between themselves and with our own cells.
With funds and logistic support from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), a group of American researchers was able to map the entire microbiome. In order to do this, scientists had to use very advanced supercomputers.
Scientists from the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab
) were part of the research group. Their work was vital for compiling the new map.
Using the new microbiome map, other researchers will be able to advance our understanding of critical processes in the human body, such as digestion and immunity. Both are very important for our survival as individuals, and both are heavily influenced by bacteria and microbes.
Details of the 5-year study were published in multiple papers, which appear in the June 14 issues of the top scientific journal Nature, and several journals edited by the Public Library of Science (PLoS). The Human Microbiome Project (HMP) Consortium features about 200 scientists.
“Now that we have a good idea of what makes up the healthy human microbiome, we can study what happens when it’s perturbed because of disease, drugs, or diet,” explains Berkeley Lab Earth Sciences Division microbial ecologist, Janet Jansson.