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Scientist doing research in the lab

The Importance of The Human Microbiome Project in 2020

3/17/2020

Findings of the Human Genome Project

Before researchers completed the Human Genome Project (HGP), the expected number of genes was around 100,000 [1]. Once the HGP was finished, one of the biggest surprises was the fact that there are a little over 20,000 genes in our genome. However, considering what we now know about the microbiome, microorganisms that colonize humans and live within and on their bodies, then the first estimate of 100,000 genes is an underestimate[2]. We now know that the number of microbial cells and their genes outnumber human ones by a factor of ten, and they contribute greatly to our health and well being. So, not just the Human Genome contributes to what makes us human.

Human Microbiome Project as an extension of the Human Genome Project

Scientist doing microbiota analysis in laboratory

Figure 1: Scientist doing microbiota analysis in laboratory
 

It is necessary to characterize and analyze microorganisms making up microbiota in order to enhance our understanding of human genetics and physiological diversity. This was one of the primary goals of the Human Microbiome Project. In 2008, the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) launched this project which serves as a logical and conceptual extension of the Human Genome Project [3]. It is a collaborative effort that examines the whole microbiome and its effects on human health and the occurrence of diseases. The primary goal was to sample five body areas (i.e., skin, mouth, nose, colon, and vagina) from 300 healthy individuals. Through this project scientists have been able to define the microbial constitution of humans and were able to provide insight into contemporary human evolution by answering the most inspiring and fundamental scientific questions. In addition, it may help us understand how technological advancement and subsequent transformation of human lifestyle affects human microevolution, their health, and susceptibility to diseases.

Importance of HMP 

Advancements in Next-generation sequencing techniques and dramatic cost reductions have been essential in continuing investigations of the human microbiome. The US National Institutes of Health recognized the importance of HMP and awarded $171 million to the effort. The European Commission also supported the project and provided €22 million to ensure a better understanding of the microbiome and its role in human health [4].

Data provided by healthy subjects when compared to others gave an improved understanding of the relationships between the microbiome and host physiology. The bacteria within our gut microbiome have a vital role in digesting our food, modulating the immune system, providing protection against pathogenic bacteria, and producing vitamins. Nowadays, HMP aims to discover new therapies that would treat disorders by growing more beneficial bacteria or by balancing the microbiota.

References

[1] Turnbaugh, P. J., Ley, R. E., Hamady, M., Fraser-Liggett, C. M., Knight, R., & Gordon, J. I. (2007). The human microbiome project. Nature, 449(7164), 804.

[2] Gill, S. R., Pop, M., DeBoy, R. T., Eckburg, P. B., Turnbaugh, P. J., Samuel, B. S., ... & Nelson, K. E. (2006). Metagenomic analysis of the human distal gut microbiome. science, 312(5778), 1355-1359. 

[3] Kim, B. S., Jeon, Y. S., & Chun, J. (2013). Current status and future promise of the human microbiome. Pediatric gastroenterology, hepatology & nutrition, 16(2), 71-79. 

[4] Methé, B. A., Nelson, K. E., Pop, M., Creasy, H. H., Giglio, M. G., Huttenhower, C., ... & Chinwalla, A. T. (2012). A framework for human microbiome research. nature, 486(7402), 215. 

[5] Peterson, J., Garges, S., Giovanni, M., McInnes, P., Wang, L., Schloss, J. A., ... & Baker, C. C. (2009). The NIH human microbiome project. Genome research, 19(12), 2317-2323.