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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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Project: Microbiome Interactions to Preterm Birth

University Association: Baylor College of Medicine
Collaborator Name: Kjersti Aagaard, M.D.

The human microbiome is composed of the microbes that inhabit the human body. In fact, adult human have ten times as many microbial cells as they do human cells. Some of these are helpful, others are benign and still others are potentially harmful. The Human Microbiome Project seeks to determine the genetic sequence of these different microbes with an eye to understanding and improving human health. Aagaard's current preterm birth initiative seeks to determine how the vaginal microbiome and the microbes it contains affect the risk of giving premature birth. Aagaard, Versalovic, Petrosino and their collaborators at BCM and Texas Children's Hospital have spent the last three years bringing together the massive clinical, and metagenomics sequencing and informatics infrastructure to enable this project largely through their interactions with the HMP. "This environment of ‘big team science'—is so well fostered through Baylor College of Medicine, the Human Genome Sequencing Center, and Texas Children's Hospital—makes efforts such as these possible.

Sequencing, mitochondrial variations. The other facet of the research is sequencing and understanding the variations of the mitochondrial genome. Mitochondria are small organelles in each cell that produce energy. Once independent living cells, they become an integral part of human cells during the process of evolution. They are passed only from mother to child. In this study, researchers plan to determine the genetic sequence of the mitochondria of the mother, the fetus (from umbilical cord blood) and the placenta (the blood-rich organ that envelopes the developing fetus) and determine how they vary. Aagaard and her colleagues want to find out how variation in this important organelle might affect a mother's risk of giving birth prematurely and how it might interact as a susceptibility factor with the vaginal microbiome.

Characterization of the maternal, fetal and placental microbiome at birth and in early infancy: National Children’s Study formative research. How the human microbiome is established and what influences its establishment has not yet been characterized at a population-based level. Aagaard's current deep metagenomic characterization initiative seeks to determine how the vaginal microbiome and the microbes it contains are established at and around the time of birth. Dr. Aagaards lab will be working to bring together extensive clinical and exposure data with sequence data from the maternal skin and vagina, the placenta, and the infant skin, gut, and oropharynx to understand establishment from pregnancy through 4 months of age. This work is sponsored by NICHD and the National Children’s Study and will lay the ground work for future larger scale initiatives with the National Children’s Study.