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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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Director's Message

Joseph Petrosino

The human microbiome can almost be thought of as an organ that contributes to our health in diverse ways: by helping the body sense and respond to our environment, by harvesting nutrients from food, in the development of our immune system, by preventing disease, and by controlling inflammation. This 'organ' has been relatively understudied, and there are certainly other yet-to-be-discovered roles for the microbiome in human health that others and we hope to reveal.

Thanks to advanced sequencing methodologies, single cell isolation methods, and germ free animal models, among other technical and analytical developments, we now have an unprecedented ability to study microbial ecology in practically any niche: from humans to insects, from the air we breathe to buildings we live and work in, and from newborns to mummies. Much like the sequencing of the human genome is opening the doors for discovery of the genetics underlying many diseases, analysis of the microbiota that occupy various niches are revealing many interesting associations between the microbiota and their environment that warrant further exploration.

In the Alkek Center for Metagenomics and Microbiome Research, we are expanding upon the expertise amassed during our efforts with the Human Microbiome Project to:

  • Support existing metagenomic research programs that are ongoing at BCM
  • Provide support for new investigators/clinical collaborators who have ideal model systems for metagenomic applications
  • Expand metagenomic research into animal and molecular model systems for hypothesis-driven studies
  • Provide a critical mass in bioinformatic expertise for analyzing and providing statistical support for metagenomic data
  • Translate novel discoveries from microbiome studies to effective clinical therapeutics and diagnostics
  • Provide a unique training environment for students and postdoctoral fellows in the genomic, microbiology, virology, and bioinformatics skillsets required for this rapidly-expanding field of research.

As of the close of 2012, we are collaborating with over 70 investigators from around the world, from Kazakhstan to Columbia, on over 100 projects, ranging from the microbiome of the eye to the gastrointestinal microbiome of Renaissance Era mummies, and impacting diseases such as Diabetes (Type I and II), Cystic Fibrosis, Irritable Bowel Disease, and cancer. We are also keenly interested in discovering the mechanisms through which the microbiome associations we discover impact human processes, and as such are pursuing collaborations with those investigating murine, primate and culture-based model systems and are recruiting world-class investigators to achieve critical mass in this area.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you are interested in pursuing microbiome studies as part of your research program!

Joseph Petrosino
Director of CMMR