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 may exceed the total number of human genes by approximately a factor of 100 to 1.
These microbial communities comprise what is known as the ‘human microbiome’. Until recent years, the human microbiome has been largely unstudied, leaving its influence upon human health largely unknown. Traditional microbiology has focused on the study of individual isolated species, with most organisms (>80 percent) having never been successfully cultured.
However, advances in DNA sequencing technologies have created the ability to examine microbial communities, including uncultivable organisms, both in terms of the organisms present and the genetic functions these organisms encode. These advances have led to ‘metagenomic’ approaches that allow the analysis of genetic material derived from complete microbial communities harvested from natural environments thereby providing a largely unbiased view of the human microbiome as well as the microbiomes of other animals and environmental niches.
These metagenomic approaches have resulted in the identification of microbes and microbial functions that are associated with various stages of health and a variety of diseases. In turn, these discoveries have launched thousands of subsequent projects seeking to understand how the microbiome impacts health and disease in humans and their environment. These studies cross nearly all fields of biological science and represent an exciting component of our understanding of the human existence.
The ultimate goal for us and many others is to understand how the microbiome impacts human health and to translate this knowledge into new diagnostics and therapeutics.
The Alkek Center for Metagenomics and Microbiome Research (CMMR) was established in 2011 by Dr. Joseph Petrosino in the Department of Molecular Virology and Microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine.
The mission of the CMMR is to serve as an international hub for the development and implementation of advanced technologies for the understanding of how the microbiome impacts health and disease, and for the translation of this knowledge into microbiome based therapeutics and diagnostics.
The vision for how we plan to structure a fully translational microbiome research center is highlighted in the figure below.