Not all causes of disease can be explained by human genetics; there are trillions of bacteria in our bodies that can effect healthy gene expression and development – these bacteria are called microbes.
Looking at the above graph, the number of researchers exploring the microbiome has increased exponentially. As sequencing technology gets cheaper, faster and better, it is not only catalyzing studies of the human genome, but also “the other human genome” – the microbiome.
What is the Microbiome?
The human microbiome is the sum total of all the microbes, or bacteria, that live in the human body. In a healthy human it is estimated that microbes outnumber human cells by a ratio of 10-to-1, and the genes that make up microbes outnumber human genes by 200-to-1.
Microbes live all over our body. There are three types of microbes, categorized by the relationship they have with the human body:
- commensals are harmless bacteria
- mutualists have a symbiotic relationship with the human body
- pathogens cause disease
Researchers studying the microbiome are examining the connections between all the bacteria in an individual’s body in order to determine their role in causing disease.
The Human Microbiome Project
The Human Microbiome Project is a project funded by the NIH Common Fund that is focusing on the sequencing and analyzing of the microbiome in order to identify the link between the microbiome and disease.
Last year the Human Microbiome Project published a paper, Structure, function and diversity of the human microbiome, which presents the analysis of one of the largest sets of microbiomes that has been studied. Other projects and program initiatives include the evaluation of multi-‘Omics data in understanding the human microbiome’s role in health and disease, among other things.
There are many ways the human genome project could change the future of science and medicine. Understanding the microbiome and the interactions that cause diseases, will allow for more specific and pointed medicine and cure/prevention of diseases we previously did not understand.
Do you think that consumers will be studying their gut flora in the near future?