At the heels of the Human Genome Project came the National Institutes of Health Common Fund Human Microbiome Project aimed at encouraging and generating research resources for characterization of the human microbiota and the part they play in and on the bodies of both healthy and diseased individuals.
In a discipline called metagenomics, scientists are sequencing and analyzing the DNA of complex and uncultured microbial samples from different microbial communities. The human microbiome is a collection of microbes that inhabit the human body. Each human body is teeming with variant microbes belonging to a variety of species. They are so numerous that they outnumber the cells of the entire body by 10 to 1. This means that there are 10 microbes to one human cell. These microbes have about 100 times more genes than our genome!!! Your stomach and mine have each 100 billion bacteria for every one gram of their matter.1 The human body hosts all these microbes and many more, forming something of a microbial ecosystem. An assortment of microbes resides in the oral cavity, alimentary canal, nose, skin etc…
Scientists working with the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) are analyzing microbial genetic information in order to understand the role microbes play in etiology of disease. Each person’s microbiome is unique to them; as unique as their finger prints. Each individual can host different microbial communities on and in different sites of their body.
Scientists claim that each microbial community can be used to predict the body’s susceptibility to diseases, and other characteristics. For instance, by studying the microbiome of an individual, scientists can tell whether the person was breastfed as a child, and even their level of education. By sequencing and studying microbiomes from individuals with different diseases, they are able to establish associations between human microbiomes and disease. This is critical for identifying new diagnostic and treatment regimens.2 However, not all microbes are disease causing. Some microbes do a lot for us such as digesting food, and synthesizing vitamins.
Microbes from different sites of the body can also be predictive of other communities. This means that by examining microbes from a given site of the body, say, the mouth, we can tell what kind of community is in the person’s alimentary canal, too. This helps in the study of risk of diseases in people, and can lead to discovery of efficacious personalized therapies.
As for taking antibiotics, one has to be very careful as this can be similar to applying herbicides to the ecosystem. Sometimes, this can destabilize the system to our detriment. It can also become breeding ground for super-bugs.
Heather Kathryn Ross (2014). Is the Forest of Bacteria Inside You Your Most Precious Resource? Accessed from http://www.healthline.com/health/microbiome-discover-your-trillions-of-bacteria
Vincent B. Young, Robert A. Britton, & Thomas M. Schmidt (2008). The Human Microbiome and
Infectious Diseases: Beyond Koch. Accessed from Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Infectious Diseases
Volume, Article ID 296873, doi:10.1155/2008/296873