The role of microbes in health and disease

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A new phase of the Human Microbiome Project (HMP)—which over the past five years identified the millions of microorganisms living on, and in, the human body—will focus on the roles played by these microbes both in health and disease. The new three-year “multi-omic” study at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT is being co-led by Curtis Huttenhower, associate professor of computational biology and bioinformatics in the Department of Biostatistics at HSPH and an associate member at the Broad.

Under the new phase of the HMP, the Broad team will partner with 10 other institutions, including HSPH, to study the microbiomes of healthy people and those with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)—a set of conditions including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis—with a variety of “omics” techniques, such as proteomic, metabolomics, or transcriptomic analyses. These techniques will help the scientists understand how the microorganisms’ genes operate in disease, and could one day lead to new approaches for managing IBD.

“In this phase, we specifically want to understand the biomolecular activity that’s occurring over time, which will require connecting many different data types into network models that capture microbial regulation and metabolism, and their effects on host cells and disease outcome,” said Huttenhower in a November 6, 2013 article on the Broad Institute’s website.