Researchers Use Computational Method to Make an Inventory of All the Bacteria in Our Gut

An international team of researchers has gathered to make a collection of all the bacterial genomes from the human gut microbiome. They are trying to put all of these into a single database. The work of the researchers has been published in the academic journal Nature Biotechnology, where it explains how the scientists are trying to find out the links between bacterial proteins and genes, together with the effects that they have on human health.

The Project

The project was led by the European Bioinformatics Institute, part of the EMBL, which included a number of collaborators coming from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, the University of Toronto, the Gladstone Institute, and even some from the US Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute.

Omnipresent

Bacteria are all over us. They coat the entire human body, inside and out. Bacteria are responsible for producing proteins that have an effect on our digestive system, our overall health and how susceptible we are to various diseases. Bacteria can be found so often in the human body that it is estimated that there are more bacteria, fungi, and other microbes in our body than there are human cells.

Purpose

The role that various species of bacteria play in human biology is hard to understand. Researchers seem to isolate and culture them in the laboratory before their DNA is sequenced. A lot of bacteria also thrive in some conditions that cannot be reproduced in a laboratory setting.

Methods

In order to get the information that is needed on species like this, scientists have to use another approach. They are getting only one sample from the environment, which is the human gut, then sequence the DNA from the entire sample. Scientists then use computational methods to reconstruct each individual genome of thousands of species gathered from that one particular sample. This method is known as metagenomics and it is a useful alternative to isolating and sequencing DNA of individual species.

Melanie J. Gullett
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