Scientists analyzing the gut microbiome have found groups of bacteria that are either abundant or nearly absent – a finding that could aid in coming up with ways to intervene to improve a person’s health. Though there is gradual variation in the abundance of much of gut bacteria, the scientists said in this week’s issue of the journal Nature Communications, specific bacterial groups exist in stable configurations that are associated with a person’s physiology and health.
Human microbiome research is an actively developing area of inquiry, with ramifications for our lifestyles, our interactions with microbes, and how we treat disease. Advances depend on carefully executed, controlled, and reproducible studies. Here, we provide a Primer for researchers from diverse disciplines interested in conducting microbiome research. We discuss factors to be considered in the design, execution, and data analysis of microbiome studies. These recommendations should help researchers to enter and contribute to this rapidly developing field.
Scientists have long studied the link between our genes and our health. Now, in a growing area of scientific research, they’re studying the link between the bacteria in our intestines and virtually every disease that ails us.
Helicobacter pylori may be the most successful pathogen in human history. While not as deadly as the bacteria that cause tuberculosis, cholera, and the plague, it infects more people than all the others combined. H. pylori, which migrated out of Africa along with our ancestors, has been intertwined with our species for at least two hundred thousand years. Although the bacterium occupies half the stomachs on earth, its role in our lives was never clear. Then, in 1982, to the astonishment of the medical world, two scientists, Barry Marshall and J. Robin Warren, discovered that H. pylori is the principal cause of gastritis and peptic ulcers; it has since been associated with an increased risk of stomach cancer as well. Until that discovery, for which the men shared a Nobel Prize, in 2005, stress, not an infection, was assumed to be the major cause of peptic ulcers.
Recent studies have suggested that the gut microbiome may be an important factor in the development of colorectal cancer. Abnormalities in the gut microbiome have been reported in patients with colorectal cancer; however, this microbial community has not been explored as a potential screen for early-stage disease. We characterized the gut microbiome in patients from three clinical groups representing the stages of colorectal cancer development: healthy, adenoma, and carcinoma. Analysis of the gut microbiome from stool samples revealed both an enrichment and depletion of several bacterial populations associated with adenomas and carcinomas.
A family of bacteria has become increasingly resistant to last-resort antibiotics during the past decade, and more hospitalized patients are getting lethal infections that, in some cases, are impossible to cure. The findings, published today in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vital Signs report, are a call to action for the entire health care community to work urgently – individually, regionally and nationally – to protect patients. During just the first half of 2012, almost 200 hospitals and long-term acute care facilities treated at least one patient infected with these bacteria.