Bedside to bench: Defining the normal human microbiome required many talents
The reports in Nature focus on information from the first 242 healthy, normal subjects who took part in the studies (a total of 300 were recruited). The data about their microbiomes provide important insights into the interplay of human and microbial cells in human beings.
"It's a roadmap," said Dr. Wendy Keitel, professor of molecular virology and microbiology and medicine – infectious diseases at BCM. She was the principal investigator of the sampling part of the BCM microbiome projects. "It's the beginning of exploring new worlds because of the distinct clustering of communities at body sites."
The major findings include:
- Marked differences among even these healthy adults in the bacteria that inhabit their guts, skin and vagina – diversity that is yet to be explained.
- The fact that the microbes on skin and in intestine, mouth and vagina are different and these communities of bacteria do not seem to mix.
- Other than two common disease-causing microbes (Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli), the surprising absence of known pathogens from the microbiota of these healthy individuals.
- This suggests that people acquire illness-causing bacteria from other sources.
- That the bacteria of the microbiome contribute genes that are important in carrying out functions essential to human life, although different bacteria may carry out the same functions in different people.
- For example, there are bacteria in the gut that help digest food, but they may not be the same bacteria in each individual.