Washington, May 21 (ANI): Researchers at the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) have released an analysis of 178 genomes from microbes that live in or on the human body, with many newly discovered genes and proteins making it to the list.
The researchers discovered novel genes and proteins that serve functions in human health and disease, adding a new level of understanding to what is known about the complexity and diversity of these organisms.
Currently, researchers can grow only some of the bacteria, fungi and viruses in a laboratory setting.
However, new genomic techniques can identify minute amounts of microbial DNA in an individual and determine its identity by comparing the genetic signature to known sequences in the project's data base. 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. We are only at the very beginning of a fascinating voyage that will transform how we diagnose, treat and ultimately, prevent many health conditions," said National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis S. Collins.
The 178 microbial genomes in this report launch the HMP reference collection that eventually will total approximately 900 microbial genomes of bacteria, viruses and fungi.
HMP researchers will use this data to characterize the microbial communities found in samples taken from healthy human volunteers and, later, those with specific illnesses.
Samples are currently being collected for HMP from five areas of the body-the digestive tract, the mouth, the skin, the nose and the vagina.
"Although this is only the first step in making HMP medically useful, we already have learned surprising things about the diversity and complexity of the microorganisms that live in and on our body. 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 Dr. Jane Peterson.
Researchers also conducted a preliminary survey to gain insights into the function of some of the newly identified genes and proteins unique to individual microbial strains.
For instance, researchers found previously unknown proteins produced by bacteria that live in the stomach that may cause gastric ulceration, a hole in the stomach lining.
In addition, they found a small number of newly identified novel proteins associated with how sugars and amino acids are metabolised.
Researchers also evaluated the microbial diversity present in the HMP reference collection.
For example, they found 29,693 previously undiscovered, unique proteins in the reference collection - more proteins than there are estimated genes in the human genome.
They compared their results to the same number of previously sequenced microbial genomes randomly selected from public databases.
These data suggest that the HMP reference collection has nearly twice the amount of microbial diversity than is represented by microbial genomes already in public databases, said the researchers
One of the primary goals of the HMP reference collection is to expand researchers' ability to interpret data from metagenomic studies.
Metagenomics is the study of a collection of genetic material (genomes) from a mixed community of organisms.
Comparing metagenomic sequence data with genomes in the reference collection can help researchers determine whether they are novel or already existing sequences.
The study was published in the latest issue of the journal Science. (ANI)