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Friday, April 25, 2008

article : Human microbiome project

Human microbiome project (HMP) is a National Institutes of Health initiative with the goal of identifying and characterizing the microorganisms which are found in association with both healthy and diseased humans. It is a five-year project, best characterized as a feasibility study, and has a total budget of 115 million dollars. The ultimate goal of this and similar NIH-sponsored microbiome projects is a demonstration (or refutation) that currently poorly characterized changes in the human microbiome can be associated with human health or disease.

Important components of the Human microbiome project will be culturing-independent methods of microbial community characterization, such as metagenomics (which provides a broad genetic perspective on a single microbial community), as well as extensive whole-genome sequencing (which provides a "deep" genetic perspective on certain aspects of a given microbial community, i.e., of individual bacterial species). The latter will serve as reference genomic sequences — 600 such sequences of individual bacterial isolates are currently planned — for comparison purposes during subsequent metagenomic analysis. The microbiology of five body sites will be emphasized: oral, skin, vagina, gut, and nasal/lung.

Context and importance of HMP

Total microbial cells found in association with humans may exceed the total number of cells making up the human body by a factor of ten-to-one. The total number of genes associated with the human microbiome could exceed the total number of human genes by a factor of 100-to-one. Many of these organisms have not been successfully cultured, identified, or otherwise characterized. Organisms expected to be found in the human microbiome, however, may generally be categorized as bacteria (the majority), members of domain Archaea, yeasts, and single-celled eukaryotes as well as various helminth parasites and viruses, the latter including viruses that infect the cellular microbiome organisms (e.g., bacteriophages, the viruses of bacteria).

"The HMP will address some of the most inspiring, vexing and fundamental scientific questions today. Importantly, it also has the potential to break down the artificial barriers between medical microbiology and environmental microbiology. It is hoped that the HMP will not only identify new ways to determine health and predisposition to diseases but also define the parameters needed to design, implement and monitor strategies for intentionally manipulating the human microbiota, to optimize its performance in the context of an individual's physiology."[1]

The HMP has been described as "a logical conceptual and experimental extension of the Human Genome Project"[2]. In 2007 the Human microbiome project was listed on the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research as one of the New Pathways to Discovery. Organized characterization of the human microbiome is also being done internationally under the auspices of the International Human Microbiome Consortium.

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