Microbiome and health: where research stands today

In 2007, a group of US researchers launched the Human Microbiome Project (HMP). This project was the logical continuation of the Human Genome Project and aimed at defining which and how many types of bacteria lived in contact with humans.

Thanks to the combined effort of about 800 researchers, taking advantage of complex sequencing strategies and biostatistical analysis, it was possible to compile a map of our symbionts.

The first phase of the project ended in 2014 leading to the creation of the reference database for all the sequences of the human microbiome. Moreover, it shed light on several aspects which point out the importance of the microbiome for human life and health, such as the following:

  • Microbes contribute more genes responsible for human survival than humans' own genes. It is estimated that bacterial protein-coding genes are 360 times more abundant than human genes.
  • Microbial metabolic activities exploited by human beings, for example, fat digestion, are not always provided by the same bacterial species. Therefore, the presence of such activities seems to matter more than the presence of a specific bacterial species.
  • Components of the human microbiome change over time, affected by a patient's health condition and drug consumption, if any. However, the microbiome eventually returns to a state of balance, even if the composition of the bacterial types has changed.

(reference: https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-human-microbiome-project-defines-normal-bacterial-makeup-body)

Currently under way, the second step of the project aims to create a complete and integrated characterization of human microbiome, with focus on understanding the presence of microbiota in health and sickness conditions, especially focusing on three cohort studies:

  • Pregnancy & Preterm Birth
  • Onset of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
  • Onset of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus

The latter theme is of shared interest with the research activities of Probionova. From HMP we know that differences in the gut microbiome have been found between diabetic and healthy individuals, and direct alteration of the microbiome in mice proved able to reduce glucose level..