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Molecular Virology & Microbiology - Alkek Center for Metagenomics and Microbiome Research

Houston, Texas

A BCM research lab.
Department of Molecular Virology and Microbiology
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About the CMMR

The CMMR was founded in 2011 and is directed by Dr. Joseph Petrosino. The CMMR was established as an extension to Baylor College of Medicine’s involvement in the Human Microbiome Project funded by the NIH. The CMMR will help BCM maintain our position as leaders in the area of Metagenomic and Microbiome Research as well as enable CMMR researchers to continue exploring deeper aspects of the human microbiome and the host-microbe interactions that impact health and disease. The CMMR will also provide metagenomic, informatics, and molecular biology support and guidance to other researchers and clinical collaborators engaging in these areas of study.

Goals of CMMR

  • Support existing metagenomic research programs that are ongoing at BCM
  • Provide support for investigators/clinical collaborators who have ideal model systems for metagenomics but who do not know where to begin such studies
  • Expand metagenomic research into animal and molecular model systems to initiate and support hypothesis-driven research that is unable to be performed in humans
  • Provide a critical mass in bioinformatic expertise for analyzing and providing statistical support for metagenomic data.
  • Provide new therapeutics and diagnostics relating to the human microbiota that can eventually be translated to the clinical setting.

The Human Microbiome Project and CMMR

(adapted from the Human Microbiome Project website)

Within the body of a healthy adult, microbial cells are estimated to outnumber human cells by a factor of ten to one. The total number of genes in the human microbiome exceeds the total number of human genes by more than a factor of 100 to 1. These communities have been largely unstudied, leaving unknown their influence upon human health. To take advantage of recent technological advances and to develop new ones, the NIH Common Fund initiated the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) with the mission of generating resources enabling characterization of the human microbiota and analysis of its role in human health and disease.
Traditional microbiology has focused on the study of individual isolated species. However, most organisms (>95 percent) have never been successfully cultured. Advances in DNA sequencing technologies have enabled the exmination of microbial communities, including uncultivable organisms. This 'metagenomic' approach allows analysis of genetic material derived from complete microbial communities harvested from natural environments. 
Knowledge of how the microbiota impact and/or respond to disease is important for developing treatments that can reduce symptoms or eliminate infectious disease. Furthermore, microbiome-associated diagnostics may be more sensitive for detecting certain diseases and/or predicting susceptibility to others so that appropriate precautions can be made (for example, taking a probiotic or antibiotic when traveling when it’s known that an individual is highly susceptible to travelers’ diarrhea or Norwalk virus infection).

The Human Microbiome Project was launched in late 2007 with a resulting 5-year budget of approximately $180 million. Goals of the HMP include the metagenomic characterization of microbial communities from 300 individuals over multiple time points and whole-genome sequencing of up to 3000 reference bacterial species. The microbiology of five body sites is being emphasized: oral, skin, vaginal, gut, and nasal. BCM, through the Human Genome Sequencing Center, was selected as one of four jumpstart center sites to initiate the HMP.
Over the past three years the Department of Molecular Virology and Microbiology and the HGSC have been developing expertise in metagenomics, particularly through support of funds from the HMP. To expand upon this expertise and leverage the rich clinical setting we access in the Texas Medical Center, BCM, in part with funding from the Alkek Foundation, has launched the Alkek Center for Metagenomics and Microbiome Research. The CMMR is contributing to numerous diverse projects in microbiome research with collaborators from BCM, investigators from other institutions in the Texas Medical Center, and other scientists from the United States and around the world.