Microbiome research

JAX researchers are exploring the effect on health and disease of the microorganisms that outnumber human cells 10 to 1.

Microbiomes are the communities of microorganisms that live on or in people, and that can influence human health. Disruption of microbiomes can result in a variety of human diseases.   

JAX Professor George Weinstock, Ph.D., a pioneer in biomedical microbiome research and a leader of the international Human Microbiome Project, notes that we have 100 times more microbial genes than human genes, and microbial genes are binding and changing things within us. As Weinstock describes it, “You’re not just a human, you’re kind of a super organism because you’re a community of all these things that are with you your whole life.”

JAX microbiome researchers leverage advanced technologies and methods for deeper, more informative microbial surveys to investigate infectious diseases, human and other mammalian microbiomes, and their clinical impact. JAX microbiome initiatives have already received substantial grants from major funding organizations, and include partnerships with both public and private organizations. 

Weinstock and colleagues at Harvard Medical School and other institutions published a study of the impact of intervenously administered antibiotics on the microbiomes of newborn infants. With Erica Weinstock of JAX and colleagues at UConn Health and other institutions, he reported in the journal Cancer Prevention Research that eating walnuts may change gut bacteria in a way that suppresses colon cancer.

The Weinstock lab has research agreements with Connecticut-based Shoreline Biome and multinational biotech bioMérieux to use the latest in DNA sequencing technology to develop more precise diagnostics for pathogens that cause infectious diseases.

Microbiomes also live in plants, soil, oceans and the atmosphere, influencing human health, climate change, food security and other factors. Weinstock and other microbiome researchers have formed a multi-institutional Unified Microbiome Initiative to accelerate basic microbiome research and its translation to useful applications in medicine, engineering and beyond.

JAX Assistant Professor Julia Oh, Ph.D., is an expert in the microbiome of the skin. She was the lead author of a paper demonstrating the use of single-molecule sequencing to better identify and characterize the colonies of microorganisms that live on human skin. Oh has established that the colonies of microorganisms that live on our hands remain stable over time despite hand-washing and touching microbe-rich surfaces.

Mark Adams, Ph.D., former scientific director of the J. Craig Venter Institute in La Jolla, Calif., has joined the JAX faculty to direct microbial genomic sequencing projects.

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