The human microbiome has garnered new collaborative interest and research development. One area of study is the resilience/vulnerability to bacterial and viral foodborne disease as well as associations between the microbiome and allergies. Several organizations worldwide have funded research projects aimed at investigating the human microbiome.1
- Beginning in 2008, the United States National Institutes of Health, launched the Human Microbiome Project: a $115 million program investigating how changes in the human microbiome are associated with human health or disease. These researchers have adopted a metagenomics, strategy using 16S rRNA and metagenomic sequencing to characterize the complexity of the human microbiome at 15 or 18 body sites. This supplements the sequencing and analysis of reference genomes isolated from human body sites, generating unprecedented amounts of data about the complexity of the human microbiome, and providing a baseline for further research into the impacts of the microbiome on human health and disease.
- The Quadram Institute in Norwich is committed to investigating the microbiome by collaborating with several organizations including an £80 million investment in working with the Food Standards Agency. The Quadram Institute has outlined four research themes: the gut and the microbiome (the gut flora); healthy aging; food innovation; and food safety. They are also working closely with the Institute of Food Research originating in London. This group is investigating how the Gastrointestinal (GI) tract, and the microbial communities that it hosts, function and protect our health against infections, specifically from the foodborne pathogens: Salmonella enterica, Campylobacter jejuni, and Clostridium botulinum.
- Currently underway, the Food Standards Agency is developing a program to better understand the rise of food allergies over the past 15 years along with the impact of the human microbiome.1
Researchers posit that understanding relationships between microbiota changes and immune response has the potential to revolutionize food and public health. Gut microbiota plays a role in the body’s response to physiological and pathological conditions. Two factors at work: the indoor-centered way of living and a diet rich in processed foods have depleted our microbiota, which can lead to an increase in inflammatory diseases and also pave the way for pathogenic micro-organisms to colonize.
In a review published in 2009, the authors explain that a beneficial partnership has evolved between symbiotic bacteria and the immune system.2 In the laboratory, researchers grew mice under sterile conditions. The mice were unable to establish healthy immune systems leaving them susceptible to bacterial infections. Similarly, researchers studying individuals living in developed countries, are seeing correlations with Western diseases such as asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, immune disorders and allergies to alterations in the microbiota. While these results are intriguing, researchers are only beginning to understand the complexity and diversity of the human microbiota and the extent of its effects on immune function.
1. Food Standards Agency (2016) “Chief Scientific Adviser’s Science Report Issue Three: Whole-genome sequencing of Foodborne Pathogens”,
2. Round, J.L., Mazmanian, S.K.(2009) “The gut microbiota shapes intestinal immune responses during health and disease.”Nature Review Immunology. 2009 May;9(5):313-23. doi: 10.1038/nri2515.