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Berkeley Lab scientists help define the healthy human microbiome
Date:6/13/2012

You're outnumbered. There are ten times as many microbial cells in you as there are your own cells.

The human microbiomeas scientists call the communities of microorganisms that inhabit your skin, mouth, gut, and other parts of your body by the trillionsplays a fundamental role in keeping you healthy. These communities are also thought to cause disease when they're perturbed. But our microbiome's exact function, good and bad, is poorly understood. That could change.

A National Institutes of Health (NIH)-organized consortium that includes scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has for the first time mapped the normal microbial make-up of healthy humans.

The research will help scientists understand how our microbiome carries out vital tasks such as supporting our immune system and helping us digest food. It'll also shed light on our microbiome's role in diseases such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, and psoriasis, to name a few.

In several scientific reports published June 14 in Nature and in journals of the Public Library of Science, about 200 members of the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) Consortium from nearly 80 research institutions report on five years of research.

Berkeley Lab's role in mapping the human microbiome revolves around big data, both analyzing it and making it available for scientists to use worldwide.

3.5 terabases of data

HMP researchers sampled 242 healthy U.S. volunteers (129 male, 113 female), collecting tissues from 15 body sites in men and 18 body sites in women. Researchers collected up to three samples from each volunteer at sites such as the mouth, nose, skin, and lower intestine. The microbial communities in each body site can be as different as the microbes in the Amazon Rainforest versus the Sahara Desert.

Researchers then purified all human and microbial DNA in more than 5,000 samples a
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Contact: Dan Krotz
dakrotz@lbl.gov
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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