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Hard Science

New Study Reveals Microbial Communities’ Full Impact on Human Health

How does our body stay healthy?

Kyree LearySeptember 20th 2017

A Healthy Body

A team of researchers have conducted a study on the human microbiome — the trillions of microbial organisms found on and within the human body. They studied microbial communities originating from the gut, skin, mouth, and other parts of the body, revealing new information detailing how these microbes benefit the body and its health.

Researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UM SOM), Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and the University of California San Diego collaborated on the study, making it the largest study on human microbial communities to ever take place — it’s the continuation of work started by the National Institutes of Health Human Microbiome Project, which initially launched in 2007.

According to Curtis Huttenhower, associate professor of computational biology and bioinformatics at Harvard Chan School, and senior author on the project, the findings provide “the most detailed information to date about exactly which microbes and molecular processes help to maintain health in the human microbiome.”

Results

1,631 new microbial samples were taken from 265 individuals of various ages. DNA sequence analysis tools were used to identify which organisms were present at different body sites, and if their functions or stability changed over time.

At its conclusion, the team was able to identify microbes belonging to specific strains, observe the biochemical activity that allows microbes to maintain the human body’s health, and compile one of the largest profiles of viruses and fungi residing within microbiomes.

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Despite the team’s progress, there are still many things about microbial communities that remain unclear — their complexity, while fascinating, requires more time and research.

“In one sense, this study is a great advancement for the research community,” said Anup Mahurkar, executive director of software engineering & information technology at University of Maryland’s Institute for Genome Sciences. “On the other hand, it still just moves the needle. There will always be more we can learn.”

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