Nav: Home

Now is the time to uncover the secrets of the Earth's microbiomes

December 02, 2015

Communities of microorganisms called microbiomes play critical roles in our lives, yet we know very little about them.

A group of 48 biologists and physical scientists from 50 institutions is aiming to change that. In the October 30 issue of the journal Science, they called for an ambitious research effort to understand and harness microbiomes. Such research could lead to advances in fields as diverse as medicine, child development, agricultural productivity, and climate modeling.

Now, in a far-ranging roundtable discussion, three of the paper's co-authors explain to The Kavli Foundation why this is the time to launch a major national effort -- the Unified Microbiome Initiative -- to study the planet's least understood ecosystems.

"In the past, we did not fully understand the complexity and richness of microbiomes, and we were limited because we could not grow the majority of bacteria in a lab, and so they were hard to study," explains Janet Jansson. Jansson is Chief Scientist of Biology in the Earth and Biological Sciences Directorate at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and sector lead for PNNL research in the Department of Energy's Biological Systems Science Division.

Over the past 15 years, however, the cost of genome sequencing has fallen by a factor of 1 million. This made it possible for the first time to survey the richness of microbial communities. The research has led to the discovery of hundreds of new and unexpected bacterial phyla, which are large groupings of related lifeforms.

New genomic tools have vastly expanded our understanding of the role microbiomes play in our lives, Rob Knight explains. He is a founder of the American Gut Project and holds joint appointments at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine and Department of Computer Science and Engineering.

"Remember, 10 years ago, microbes hadn't been linked to any of the things we now know they're involved in, such as obesity, allergies, depression and brain development. While the links between the microbiome and metabolism have certainly been very surprising, what surprised me the most has been the links between the microbiome and behavior. This was not even on the radar 10 years ago," Knight says.

The Unified Microbiome Initiative calls for developing a new generation of scientific instruments that would let researchers study how microorganisms within a community interact with one another and their environment. This knowledge would make it possible to manipulate microbiomes to improve healthcare, agriculture and the environment.

The impact of microbiome research on human health alone could be profound. Over the past 10 years, researchers have discovered that the composition of the gut microbiome - which contains 10 times more cells and 100 times more genetic information than the human body - can determine how medicines are metabolized.

And physicians have demonstrated that transplanting healthy microbiomes into patients afflicted with colitis, an inflammation of the lining of the colon, caused by Clostridium difficile is three to four times more effective than antibiotics.

"This is actually the first proof of principle that we can manipulate microbiomes in a very deliberate way to treat a serious human disease," says Jeff Miller, lead author of the Science paper. Miller is director of the California NanoSystems Institute, holds the Fred Kavli Chair in NanoSystems Sciences, and is a professor of Microbiology, Immunology & Molecular Genetics at University of California, Los Angeles.

Microbiomes also play an important role in global ecosystems. Jansson, for example, studies how microbiomes behave as Arctic permafrost thaws. She hopes to learn how this will affect the metabolism of microbiomes that cycle carbon so scientists can model the impact on climate change.

Microbiomes also play an important role in agriculture, where they provide plants with essential nutrients and even enzymes.

However, the ability to engineer microbiomes also raises some flags.

"Whenever we manipulate something in an animal or a human being, we need to consider the ethical issues. But the idea of potentially engineering Earth's microbial ecosystems raises very legitimate questions," Miller says.
-end-
Read the full conversation with Janet Jansson, Rob Knight and Jeff Miller at: http://www.kavlifoundation.org/science-spotlights/why-its-time-map-microbiome

The Kavli Foundation

Related Microbiome Articles:

The dust storm microbiome
The airborne dust carried in sand storms affects the health of people and ecosystems alike.
Makeup of vaginal microbiome linked to preterm birth
In a study of predominantly African-American women -- who have a much higher rate of delivering babies early compared with other racial groups -- researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St.
Breast-feeding's role in 'seeding' infant microbiome
UCLA-led study finds that 30 percent of the beneficial bacteria in a baby's intestinal tract come directly from mother's milk, and an additional 10 percent comes from skin on the mother's breast.
Chronic fatigue syndrome linked to imbalanced microbiome
Scientists at the Center for Infection and Immunity (CII) at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health have discovered abnormal levels of specific gut bacteria related to chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis, or ME/CFS, in patients with and without concurrent irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS.
'Genetic scalpel' can manipulate the microbiome, Yale study shows
Yale University researchers have developed new methods for regulating gene activity in a widespread group of microbiome bacteria in the gut of living mice -- a crucial step in understanding microbiome's impact on health and disease.
An unbalanced microbiome on the face may be key to acne development
At the Microbiology Society's Annual Conference, researchers will show that the overall balance of the bacteria on a person's skin, rather than the presence or absence of a particular bacterial strain, appears to be an important factor for acne development and skin health.
Microbiome diversity is influenced by chance encounters
An MIT study suggests chance is an overlooked factor in the wide variation of microbe gut populations between individuals.
From mice, clues to microbiome's influence on metabolic disease
The community of microorganisms that resides in the gut, known as the microbiome, has been shown to work in tandem with the genes of a host organism to regulate insulin secretion, a key variable in the onset of the metabolic disease diabetes.
Study shows how a dog's diet shapes its gut microbiome
Studies of the gut microbiome have gone to the dogs -- and pets around the world could benefit as a result.
'FishTaco' sorts out who is doing what in your microbiome
How much do different bacterial species contribute to disease-associated imbalances in the human microbiome?

Related Microbiome Reading:

The Microbiome Solution: A Radical New Way to Heal Your Body from the Inside Out
by Dr. Robynne Chutkan M.D. (Author)

Live Dirty, Eat Clean—because every serious disease or chronic ailment begins in our gut. The author of Gutbliss and one of today’s preeminent gastroenterologists distills the latest research on the microbiome into a practical program for boosting overall health.
 
The microbiome—the collective name for the trillions of bacteria that live in our digestive tract—is today’s hottest medical news topic. Dr. Robynne Chutkan explains how the standard Western diet and our super-sanitized lifestyle are starving our microbes, depleting the “good bugs” that are... View Details


The Microbiome Diet: The Scientifically Proven Way to Restore Your Gut Health and Achieve Permanent Weight Loss
by Raphael Kellman (Author)

Cutting–edge science has shown that the microbiome is the key to overall mental and physical health—and the secret behind healthy, sustainable weight loss. Drawing on nearly two decades of experience as a specialist in functional medicine and intestinal health, Dr. Raphael Kellman has developed the first diet based on these scientific breakthroughs. Offering a proven program to heal your gut and reset your metabolism, along with meal plans and 50 delicious chef–created recipes, The Microbiome Diet is the key to safe, sustainable weight loss and a lifetime of good... View Details


I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life
by Ed Yong (Author)

New York Times Bestseller

New York Times Notable Book of 2016

NPR Great Read of 2016

Economist Best Books of 2016

Brain Pickings Best Science Books of 2016

Smithsonian Best Books about Science of 2016

Science Friday Best Science Book of 2016

A Mother Jones Notable Read of 2016

A Bill Gates “Gates Notes” Pick

MPR Best Books of... View Details


The Secret Life of Your Microbiome: Why Nature and Biodiversity are Essential to Health and Happiness
by Susan L. Prescott (Author), Alan C. Logan (Author)

For too long our bodies have been viewed as capsules, sealed off and protected from 'bugs' by our immune systems and an arsenal of antibiotics, pesticides, processed foods, and antibacterial soaps. The more insulated from nature, the better.

The Secret Life of Your Microbiome shatters this deeply held myth, presenting a revolutionary new paradigm, backed by vast science; we're deeply connected to the biodiversity of nature through our microbiomes, the rich microbial ecosystem of our guts and skin, and this connection is essential to health and happiness.
View Details


The Human Superorganism: How the Microbiome Is Revolutionizing the Pursuit of a Healthy Life
by Rodney Dietert PhD (Author)

"Eyeopening... Fascinating... may presage a paradigm shift in medicine.” 
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Teeming with information and big ideas... Outstanding.”
Booklist (starred review)

The origin of asthma, autism, Alzheimer's, allergies, cancer, heart disease, obesity, and even some kinds of depression is now clear. Award-winning researcher on the microbiome, professor Rodney Dietert presents a new paradigm in human biology that has emerged in the midst of the ongoing global epidemic of noncommunicable diseases.

... View Details


The Microbiome Cookbook: 150 Delicious Recipes to Nourish your Microbiome and Restore your Gut Health
by Pamela Ellgen (Author)

THE REVOLUTIONARY APPROACH THAT FIXES YOUR DIGESTION BY UNLEASHING NATURE'S TINY BUT POWERFUL ORGANISM

The gastrointestinal microbiota comprises hundreds of trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungal organisms that inhabit your intestines and live symbiotically with you. When the microbiome is disrupted, a cascade of complications can ensue, including allergies and food sensitivities, mental health problems, weight gain, irritable bowel syndrome and autoimmune diseases.

The Microbiome Cookbook provides you with the information and recipes to support a... View Details


Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain–for Life
by David Perlmutter (Author), Kristin Loberg (Contributor)

The bestselling author of Grain Brain uncovers the powerful role of gut bacteria in determining your brain's destiny.

Debilitating brain disorders are on the rise-from children diagnosed with autism and ADHD to adults developing dementia at younger ages than ever before. But a medical revolution is underway that can solve this problem: Astonishing new research is revealing that the health of your brain is, to an extraordinary degree, dictated by the state of your microbiome - the vast population of organisms that live in your body and outnumber your own cells... View Details


The Microbiome Diet Plan: Six Weeks to Lose Weight and Improve Your Gut Health
by Danielle Capalino (Author)

“In The Microbiome Diet Plan, Danielle Capalino arms you with an implementable six-week plan to eat your way towards weight loss and digestive health. This book will be a valuable resource for anyone looking to feel better, and look better, starting from the inside out.”
—Dr. Gerard E. Mullin, gastroenterologist, nutritionist, author of The Gut Balance Revolution, and creator of The Food MD blog

Today more than 70 million Americans suffer from digestive issues, with two in three adults considered overweight. Recent studies... View Details


10% Human: How Your Body's Microbes Hold the Key to Health and Happiness
by Alanna Collen (Author)

You are just 10% human. For every one of the cells that make up the vessel that you call your body, there are nine impostor cells hitching a ride. You are not just flesh and blood, muscle and bone, brain and skin, but also bacteria and fungi. Over your lifetime, you will carry the equivalent weight of five African elephants in microbes. You are not an individual but a colony.

Until recently, we had thought our microbes hardly mattered, but science is revealing a different story, one in which microbes run our bodies; remaining a healthy human is impossible without them.

In this... View Details


Meet Your Microbiome: Your Superheroes Within
by Cheryl Corcione (Author), Chrystal Cordero (Author)

Did you know there’s an army of Superheroes inside your body? An ecosystem where Superheroes battle to keep you healthy? Meet Your Microbiome, Your Superheroes Within is an engaging and interactive picture book that introduces children to the powerful community of microbes on and inside us. In Meet Your Microbiome – Your Superheroes Within, children become a superhero as they help the microbial Superheroes, Mike and Michelle lead their army to battle the Bad Guys in order to destroy the ultimate villain—Inflammation. Children learn how to be the Superheroes of their health and have the... View Details

Best Science Podcasts 2017

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2017. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Going Undercover
Are deception and secrecy categorically wrong? Or can they be a necessary means to an end? This hour, TED speakers share stories of going undercover to explore unknown territory, and find the truth. Guests include poet and activist Theo E.J. Wilson, journalist Jamie Bartlett, counter-terrorism expert Mubin Shaikh, and educator Shabana Basij-Rasikh.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#452 Face Recognition and Identity
This week we deep dive into the science of how we recognize faces and why some of us are better -- or worse -- at this than others. We talk with Brad Duchaine, Professor of Psychology at Dartmouth College, about both super recognizers and face blindness. And we speak with Matteo Martini, Psychology Lecturer at the University of East London, about a study looking at twins who have difficulty telling which one of them a photo was of. Charity Links: Union of Concerned Scientists Evidence For Democracy Sense About Science American Association for the Advancement of Science Association for Women...