People are host to trillions of microbes living on their skin and in the gut, vagina, mouth, nose, lungs, and penis. These microbes live as communities in and on the human body and are known as the human microbiome. For the most part, we peacefully co-exist with these microbes.
These projects constitute the second phase of the Human Microbiome Project (HMP), begun in 2007. The first phase of the HMP focused on the composition and genetic potential of the microbial communities of major regions of the body and how these communities differ in health and for various diseases. The second phase will focus on measuring the biochemical activities of these communities, activities which hold the key to how microbes influence the physiology of the human host within which they reside.
Of the three projects, one joint project by research teams between Stanford University and Washington University in St. Louis will examine the microbes in the gut and nose and determine how alteration in certain microorganisms (for example during viral infections) may trigger the development of diseases such as diabetes. They will use several ‘omics’ approaches, including genomics, transcriptomics, and proteomics to follow the dynamic changes in the microbiome and in the host over time. A second joint project will be conducted between research teams at The Broad Institute and Harvard School of Public Health in Cambridge, Mass. Also using ‘omics’ technologies, they will assess the populations and physiological activities of gut microbes in people with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, two chronic inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), in order to advance knowledge of the disease mechanisms. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) will manage these grants.
A third project, conducted by a research team at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, will also use genomics and other ‘omics’ technologies to study bacteria that live in the vagina and assess the roles these bacteria play in health and disease in pregnant women as well as in their babies, particularly for preterm birth. The Eunice Kennedy ShriverNational Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD) will manage this grant.
The awards are primarily funded through the NIH Common Fund, which supports high-impact pioneering research across the agency. Other NIH funding comes from NIDDK, the Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH), the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). Other NIH support comes from NICHD, theNational Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), and the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), which coordinates the Human Microbiome Project.
- Robert W. Karp, Ph.D., project officer NIDDK’s IBD Genetics Consortium
- Salvatore Sechi, Ph.D., senior advisor for NIDDK’s Proteomics and Systems Biology Program in the Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology, and Metabolic Diseases
- John Ilekis, Ph.D., health scientist administrator, at NICHD’s Pregnancy and Perinatology Branch
- Lita M. Proctor, Ph.D., coordinator, Human Microbiome Project at NHGRI’s Division of Genomic Sciences