I am a scientist specialized in mitochondria and genetics, but above all, I am just curious guy who loves learning new things.
And you thought most of the genes in our bodies were our own…
In 10 seconds? When studying our DNA, scientists used to focus on nuclear and mitochondrial DNA, but recent research started paying attention to another DNA in our bodies, the one that belongs to the microbes that live inside us, called the microbiome, which has over 100 times more genes than the human genome!
So, genetically speaking, we are more microbe than human? Sort of, specially if you add to the microbiome the DNA in our mitochondria, which is supposed to come from ancient bacteria. And with the increasing importance of microbiota on human health, soon human health scientists may focus more on bacterial than on human DNA.
Why, what is the utility of studying the microbiome? Thanks to the specific genetic markers of each microbe, studying the microbiome is the easiest way of studying the microbiota, telling us its composition and the quantity of each bacterial species, as well as other microbes as viruses and fungi. And this allows us to study the link between changes in microbiota and health issues, like obesity or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), as well as other, unexpected, uses.
What kind of unexpected uses? For instance, it has been shown that the microbiome can be used to identify individuals, as if it were finger prints or blood samples, because of the uniqueness of each individual’s microbiome. It also allows us to go deeper in our knowledge of prehistoric times and our ancestors way of life, thanks to the microbial DNA trapped in calculus of ancient fossils. And it can even teach us about social interactions and how we exchange microbes with each other, through food, sexual intercourse or even currency!
Abstract: Paper currency by its very nature is frequently transferred from one person to another and represents an important medium for human contact with-and potential exchange of-microbes. In this pilot study, we swabbed circulating $1 bills obtained from a New York City bank in February (Winter) and June (Summer) 2013 and used shotgun metagenomic sequencing to profile the communities found on their surface. Using basic culture conditions, we also tested whether viable microbes could be recovered from bills.Shotgun metagenomics identified eukaryotes as the most abundant sequences on money, followed by bacteria, viruses and archaea. Eukaryotic assemblages were dominated by human, other metazoan and fungal taxa. The currency investigated harbored a diverse microbial population that was dominated by human skin and oral commensals, including Propionibacterium acnes, Staphylococcus epidermidis and Micrococcus luteus. Other taxa detected not associated with humans included Lactococcus lactis and Streptococcus thermophilus, microbes typically associated with dairy production and fermentation. Culturing results indicated that viable microbes can be isolated from paper currency.We conducted the first metagenomic characterization of the surface of paper money in the United States, establishing a baseline for microbes found on $1 bills circulating in New York City. Our results suggest that money amalgamates DNA from sources inhabiting the human microbiome, food, and other environmental inputs, some of which can be recovered as viable organisms. These monetary communities may be maintained through contact with human skin, and DNA obtained from money may provide a record of human behavior and health. Understanding these microbial profiles is especially relevant to public health as money could potentially mediate interpersonal transfer of microbes.
Pub.: 07 Apr '17, Pinned: 26 Sep '17
Abstract: Emerging evidence has linked the gut microbiome to human obesity. We performed a metagenome-wide association study and serum metabolomics profiling in a cohort of lean and obese, young, Chinese individuals. We identified obesity-associated gut microbial species linked to changes in circulating metabolites. The abundance of Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron, a glutamate-fermenting commensal, was markedly decreased in obese individuals and was inversely correlated with serum glutamate concentration. Consistently, gavage with B. thetaiotaomicron reduced plasma glutamate concentration and alleviated diet-induced body-weight gain and adiposity in mice. Furthermore, weight-loss intervention by bariatric surgery partially reversed obesity-associated microbial and metabolic alterations in obese individuals, including the decreased abundance of B. thetaiotaomicron and the elevated serum glutamate concentration. Our findings identify previously unknown links between intestinal microbiota alterations, circulating amino acids and obesity, suggesting that it may be possible to intervene in obesity by targeting the gut microbiota.
Pub.: 20 Jun '17, Pinned: 26 Sep '17
Abstract: The oral microbiome is composed of a multitude of different species of bacteria, each capable of occupying one or more of the many different niches found within the human oral cavity. This community exhibits many types of complex interactions which enable it to colonize and rapidly respond to changes in the environment in which they live. One of these interactions is the transfer, or acquisition, of DNA within this environment, either from co-resident bacterial species or from exogenous sources. Horizontal gene transfer in the oral cavity gives some of the resident bacteria the opportunity to sample a truly enormous metagenome affording them considerable adaptive potential which may be key to survival in such a varying environment. In this review the underlying mechanisms of HGT are discussed in relation to the oral microbiome with numerous examples described where the direct acquisition of exogenous DNA has contributed to the fitness of the bacterial host within the human oral cavity.
Pub.: 25 Sep '14, Pinned: 26 Sep '17
Abstract: The role of bacteria in the causation of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is gaining acceptance. Mainstream research favouring respiratory compromise has failed to provide a plausible pathogenetic mechanism despite many years of investigation and thousands of research papers. Bacterial colonisation of the colon of the human infant is influenced by many factors including age, mode of delivery, diet, environment, and antibiotic exposure. The gut microbiome influences development of the immune system. The gut microflora could be important in protection against the bacteria and/or their toxins purportedly involved in SIDS pathogenesis. The aim was to perform a preliminary investigation of the gut microflora in sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) compared with live comparison babies. The intestinal contents from 52 SIDS, and 102 faecal samples from age-matched live comparison infants were screened by PCR to target 16s RNA genes of Clostridium innocuum, Cl. Perfringens, Cl. difficile, Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron and Staphylococcus aureus. Gut colonisation of the babies with these bacteria was analysed in relation to age, gender and type of feeding; and for SIDS babies sleeping position. Cl. difficile, Cl. innocuum and B. thetaiotaomicron were significantly associated with SIDS with 25%, 46% and 30% of cases PCR positive for these respective bacteria compared with only 6%, 23% and 8.8% respectively in the comparison group. SIDS babies had dual colonisation by both Cl. perfringens and Cl. difficile significantly more often than comparison babies and also with triple colonisation by Cl. perfringens, Cl. difficile and Cl. innocuum. SIDS babies were more often colonised by S. aureus than comparison babies. In addition, SIDS babies found prone were significantly more likely to be colonised by S. aureus than for other positions recorded (OR = ∞; CI = 2·04 - ∞). No significant differences between breast and bottle-fed SIDS babies was observed in regard to each clostridial bacterium, or S. aureus, however Cl. innocuum was found to be significantly associated with formula feeding in the comparison cohort. Comparison of breast and formula feeding of SIDS babies with live comparison babies revealed significant differences with regards to some of the clostridial bacteria. Age-specific differences in gut bacterial microbiome were observed in both SIDS and comparison healthy babies. This study gives an insight into differences in the gut bacterial microbiome of SIDS babies compared with healthy babies. These differences could be important in contributing to a baby's susceptibility to infection and therefore to SIDS. The association of S. aureus colonisation with prone sleep position supports the hypothesis that prone sleep position could increase the risk of ingestion/inhalation of bacteria contaminating the sleeping surface and could account for the increased risk of SIDS in babies who are put to sleep prone. The study provides impetus for broader studies into the gut microbiome of babies and could lead to effective approaches to SIDS prevention.
Pub.: 22 Jun '14, Pinned: 26 Sep '17
Abstract: Community composition within the human microbiome varies across individuals, but it remains unknown if this variation is sufficient to uniquely identify individuals within large populations or stable enough to identify them over time. We investigated this by developing a hitting set-based coding algorithm and applying it to the Human Microbiome Project population. Our approach defined body site-specific metagenomic codes: sets of microbial taxa or genes prioritized to uniquely and stably identify individuals. Codes capturing strain variation in clade-specific marker genes were able to distinguish among 100s of individuals at an initial sampling time point. In comparisons with follow-up samples collected 30-300 d later, ∼30% of individuals could still be uniquely pinpointed using metagenomic codes from a typical body site; coincidental (false positive) matches were rare. Codes based on the gut microbiome were exceptionally stable and pinpointed >80% of individuals. The failure of a code to match its owner at a later time point was largely explained by the loss of specific microbial strains (at current limits of detection) and was only weakly associated with the length of the sampling interval. In addition to highlighting patterns of temporal variation in the ecology of the human microbiome, this work demonstrates the feasibility of microbiome-based identifiability-a result with important ethical implications for microbiome study design. The datasets and code used in this work are available for download from huttenhower.sph.harvard.edu/idability.
Pub.: 13 May '15, Pinned: 26 Sep '17
Abstract: The human microbiome is one of the key factors affecting the host immune system and metabolic functions that are not encoded in the human genome. Culture-independent analysis of the human microbiome using metagenomics approach allows us to investigate the compositions and functions of the human microbiome. Computational methods analyze the microbial community by using specific marker genes or by using shotgun sequencing of the entire microbial community. Taxonomy profiling is conducted by using the reference sequences or by de novo clustering of the specific region of sequences. Functional profiling, which is mainly based on the sequence similarity, is more challenging since about half of ORFs predicted in the metagenomic data could not find homology with known protein families. This review examines computational methods that are valuable for the analysis of human microbiome, and highlights the results of several large-scale human microbiome studies. It is becoming increasingly evident that dysbiosis of the gut microbiome is strongly associated with the development of immune disorder and metabolic dysfunction.
Pub.: 03 Dec '14, Pinned: 26 Sep '17
Abstract: Dental calculus, a material observed in the majority of adults worldwide, emerged as a source for correlating paleomicrobiology with human health and diet. This mini review of 48 articles on the paleomicrobiology of dental calculus over 7550 years discloses a secular core microbiota comprising nine bacterial phyla – Firmicutes, Actinobacteria, Proteobacteria, Bacteroidetes, TM7, Synergistetes, Chloroflexi, Fusobacteria, Spirochetes – and one archaeal phylum Euryarchaeota; and some accessory microbiota that appear and disappear according to time frame. The diet residues and oral microbes, including bacteria, archaea, viruses and fungi, consisting of harmless organisms and pathogens associated with local and systemic infections have been found trapped in ancient dental calculus by morphological approaches, immunolabeling techniques, isotope analyses, fluorescent in situ hybridization, DNA‐based approaches, and protein‐based approaches. These observations led to correlation of paleomicrobiology, particularly Streptococcus mutans and archaea, with past human health and diet.
Pub.: 15 Sep '15, Pinned: 26 Sep '17
Abstract: The genital tract microbiome is tightly associated with reproductive health. Although many research studies have been performed on the vaginal microbiome, current knowledge of the male microbiome is scarce, and parallel studies examining couples are extremely rare. In this work, we aimed to compare seminal and vaginal microbiomes in couples and to assess the influence of sexual intercourse on vaginal microbiome. The study included 23 couples. Microbiomes of semen and vaginal fluid (pre- and post-intercourse) were profiled using Illumina HiSeq2000 sequencing of the V6 region of 16S rRNA gene. Seminal communities were significantly more diverse, but with lower total bacterial concentrations than those of the vagina. Gardnerella vaginalis was predominant in half of the women whose partners had significant leukocytospermia, but only in one of 17 women who had a partner without leukocytospermia. There was significant decrease in the relative abundance of Lactobacillus crispatus after intercourse, and high concordance between semen and vaginal samples. Our data support the hypothesis that semen and vaginal microbiomes are in association, inasmuch as the predominance of G. vaginalis in female partners was significantly related to inflammation in male genital tracts.
Pub.: 15 Apr '15, Pinned: 26 Sep '17
Abstract: Usually the genetics of human longevity is restricted to the nuclear genome (nDNA). However it is well known that the nDNA interacts with a physically and functionally separated genome, the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) that, even if limited in length and number of genes encoded, plays a major role in the ageing process. The complex interplay between nDNA/mtDNA and the environment is most likely involved in phenomena such as ageing and longevity. To this scenario we have to add another level of complexity represented by the microbiota, that is, the whole set of bacteria present in the different part of our body with their whole set of genes. In particular, several studies investigated the role of gut microbiota (GM) modifications in ageing and longevity and an age-related GM signature was found. In this view, human being must be considered as "metaorganism" and a more holistic approach is necessary to grasp the complex dynamics of the interaction between the environment and nDNA-mtDNA-GM of the host during ageing. In this review, the relationship between the three genetics and human longevity is addressed to point out that a comprehensive view will allow the researchers to properly address the complex interactions that occur during human lifespan.
Pub.: 29 May '14, Pinned: 26 Sep '17
Abstract: The human microbiome, the collective genome of the microbial community that is on and within us, has recently been mapped. The initial characterization of healthy subjects has provided investigators with a reference population for interrogating the microbiome in metabolic, intestinal, and reproductive health and disease states. Although it is known that bacteria can colonize the vagina, recent metagenomic studies have shown that the vaginal microbiome varies among reproductive age women. Similarly, the richness and diversity of intestinal microbiota also naturally fluctuate among gravidae in both human and nonhuman primates, as well as mice. Moreover, recent evidence suggests that microbiome niches in pregnancy are not limited to maternal body sites, as the placenta appears to harbor a low biomass microbiome that is presumptively established in early pregnancy and varies in association with a remote history of maternal antenatal infection as well as preterm birth. In this article, we will provide a brief overview on metagenomics science as a means to investigate the microbiome, observations pertaining to both variation and the presumptive potential role of a varied microbiome during pregnancy, and how future studies of the microbiome in pregnancy may lend to a better understanding of human biology, reproductive health, and parturition.
Pub.: 18 Mar '15, Pinned: 26 Sep '17