"will most certainly advance further research into probiotics and prebiotics”

€138m, 5-year Human Microbiome Project completion excites probiotic community

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Human genome project

The 5-year, $173m (€138m) Human Microbiome Project has completed with a 14-article publication blitz in journals like Nature that spells out some of its pioneering findings into the make-up and behavior of the human microbiota.

Along the way the project’s scientists, headed by Dr Dirk Gevers at the Broad Institute at the Massachusetts Institute Technology and Harvard, discovered the microbiome metagenome contains around eight million protein-coding genes - about 360 times as many as found in the human genome (22,000).

See Dr Gevers talking with us about the project at last year’s Microbiota event in Paris here​.

The completion of the project has been welcomed by probiotic researchers.

“The data looks great and will most certainly advance further research into probiotics and prebiotics,”​ said professor Ger Rijkers, PhD, from the University Medical Center in Utrecht, in the Netherlands.

One important step…

Dr Bruno Pot, from the Lille Institute in France, agreed, “metagenomics has taken off and is going to yield important information.”

“It is true that a large number of hurdles have been taken, but many more will need to be solved along the way,”​ he added, noting, “Making the inventory of what is out there was one important step. Trying to understand how these ecosystems function and maintain themselves, remains to be solved to a large extent, but the ultimate goal is to understand and predict the interactions of these different ecosystems with the host. “

“The beauty of the approach is its tremendous applicability in so many different fields of health and well-being, while the downside is the complexity which is far from being handled efficiently today.”

“The current technological developments and the current research efforts are therefore indispensable for the development of these fascinating new tools, which almost surely will become the basis for new important diagnostic procedures in the future.”

“Big science is hard.”

Speaking to the enormity of the project, Doyle Ward, a Broad Institute scientist and key figure in the project observed: "Big science is hard. Metagenomic science is hard. And metagenomic, big science is the square of hard. We were sequencing large numbers of highly variable, highly complex samples at different institutions and there's no roadmap for doing that."

Dr Gevers himself said: "Just as the Human Genome Project was 10 years ago, the Human Microbiome Project is intended to be a baseline for future studies of human health and disease. This is a tremendous resource that is now publicly available to the scientific community that allows us to ask how and why microbial communities vary."

"The next frontier is to harness this information by embarking on studies that explore how the microbiome affects illnesses such as inflammatory bowel disease or type 1 diabetes, exploring options for early diagnostics and even therapeutic manipulation of the microbiota.” 

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