For the first time, researchers have analyzed the multitude of microorganisms residing in the human gut as a complex, integrated biological system, rather than a set of separate species. Their approach has revealed patterns that correspond with excess body weight.
The collection of microbes inside the human gut is a bustling network of genetic interplays and energy use. By constructing models of these microbial communities, scientists have discovered novel differences between obese and lean people.
They were able to detect organizational shifts away from a normal "lean" state in the gut flora of people who were significantly overweight, as well as in people with inflammatory bowel disease. The findings are reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The senior author of the paper, Elhanan Borenstein, assistant professor of genome sciences at the University of Washington, said, "Our research introduces a novel framework, applying systems biology and in-silico (computer) modeling to study the human microbiome the complex ensemble of microorganisms that populate the human body as a single cohesive system."
Sharon Greenblum of the UW Department of Genome Sciences and Peter J. Turnbaugh of the FAS Center for Systems Biology at Harvard University were on the research team. Borenstein also holds an adjunct appointment at the UW's Department of Computer Science & Engineering and is an External Professor at the Santa Fe Institute.
The team's approach is to treat the human microbiome as a cohesive "supra-organism," in which genes from multiple microbial species act in concert, as if they were part of a single organism.
World-wide research initiatives, Borenstein said, highlight how the microbiome influences human health. The microbiome is essential for human development, immunity and nutrition.
People harbor more than 100 trillion microbes. These microbes live in various
|Contact: Leila Gray|
University of Washington