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Human Microbiome Project publishes first data

Uduak Grace Thomas

Preliminary studies link some bacteria to human diseases.

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The Human Microbiome Project (HMP) has published the sequenced genomes of 178 microbes that live in or on the human body. The project is managed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and seeks to advance studies on these tiny bugs, which impact human health and disease.

“This initial work lays the foundation for this ambitious project and is critical for understanding the role that the microbiome plays in human health and disease,” NIH director Francis Collins said in a press release. “We are only at the very beginning of a fascinating voyage that will transform how we diagnose, treat, and ultimately prevent many health conditions.”

Found in the human gut, the bacterium, Enterococcus faecalis, is just one of the microbes being studied as part of the Human Microbiome Project. Source: US Department of Agriculture
The report includes the results of several preliminary studies on microbial gene and protein functions. In one study, researchers found that some types of bacteria in the human stomach produce proteins that eat away at the stomach lining and cause ulcers. Another study found that the newly sequenced microbial genomes encode for over 26,000 novel proteins. This is nearly twice the amount encoded by previously sequenced genomes in the public database, and more than the estimated 20,000–25,000 encoded by the human genome.

HMP researchers plan to sequence about 900 microbial genomes of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. The researchers are now collecting microbe samples from volunteers from several areas of the body including the digestive tract, mouth, skin, nose, blood, vagina, and the male urethra. “The next stages of this coordinated study will begin to associate the presence or absence of specific micro-organisms with various states of health and illness,” said Jane Peterson, associate director of the NHGRI Division of Extramural Researchers and a leader of the HMP effort.

The genome sequencing work of the other hundreds of targeted microbes is continuing in HMP-funded centers at Baylor College, Washington University, the J. Craig Venter Institute, and the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology/Harvard. More information about the project can be found online. Complete genome sequences are available on the NIH website and on the project’s website. Complete details of the findings were published in Science on May 21.