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, investigators 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 2011, the Alkek Center for Metagenomics and Microbiome Research (CMMR) was launched to in the Department of Molecular Virology and Microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine to expand upon the expertise amassed during our efforts with the Human Microbiome Project.
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 new and existing metagenomic research programs that are ongoing at BCM
- Serve as an international hub for metagenomic studies with the capacity to engage large scale projects targeted toward understanding microbial associations in complex diseases manifested in different parts of the world
- 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 2015, we have been collaborating with over 300 investigators from Kazakhstan to Columbia and around the world, on over 150 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.
Our vision is to be a fully translational microbiome research center: identifying host and microbe associations that promote health and prevent or mitigate disease, dissecting these host microbe associations to reveal processes responsible for these activities, and then developing and implementing interventions to benefit human health. In addition to contributing to the microbiome knowledge base, we are also training the researchers of tomorrow in this field and are also engaging the public and regulatory agencies as the microbiome becomes a greater part of public medical awareness.
We are growing to meet this vision. And, in our first round of expansion, we are proud to have recruited four outstanding faculty to our center: Drs. Robert Briton, Gretchen Diehl, Joseph Hyser, and Buck Samuel who are here and active presently and whose laboratories are contributing a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the CMMR and the microbiome field. We will continue to grow as the field matures.
Please do not hesitate to contact us if you are interested in pursuing microbiome studies as part of your research program!
Director of CMMR