Article from Broad Institute
Human beings are ecosystems on two legs, each of us carrying enough microbes to outnumber our human cells by 10 to 1 and our genes by even more. Identifying the dizzying numbers of bacteria and other microbes that live in and on our bodies is like exploring a new planet. You need much more than telescopes and charts to map the unknown territory called our microbiomes – and explorers to take a census of the inhabitants.
The Human Microbiome Project (HMP) Consortium, a five-year collaboration of large sequencing centers including the Broad Institute and dozens of other multidisciplinary research institutions across the nation, set out to build a foundation for understanding how these microorganisms coexist with their human hosts. To do so, scientists at the Broad played a leadership role in creating molecular tools and applying standardized protocols, generating vast amounts of data, developing new analytical methods to understand these data, and identifying the microbiome's most elusive organisms for whole genome sequencing.
Now a series of 14 scientific publications from the consortium, two appearing June 14 in Nature and 12 in Public Library of Science journals, for the first time answer two fundamental questions about the microbiota that healthy humans carry: Who's there and what are they doing?
"Just as the Human Genome Project was 10 years ago, the Human Microbiome Project is intended to be a baseline for future studies of human health and disease," said Dirk Gevers, a Genome Sequencing and Analysis Program group leader at the Broad, co-first author of one Nature paper, and co-author of the other. "This is a tremendous resource that is now publicly available to the scientific community that allows us to ask how and why microbial communities vary."