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Normal bacterial makeup has huge implications for health, says CU professor
Date:6/13/2012

For the first time a consortium of researchers organized by the National Institutes of Health, including a University of Colorado Boulder professor, has mapped the normal microbial makeup of healthy humans.

The team made up of 200 researchers from the Human Microbiome Project Consortium, or HMP, and based at 80 research institutions, reports that while nearly everyone carries pathogens -- which are microorganisms that cause illness -- pathogens cause no disease in healthy individuals. Instead, they co-exist with their host and the rest of the human microbiome, which is the collection of all microorganisms living in the human body.

Although the human body contains trillions of microorganisms -- outnumbering human cells by 10 to one -- they make up only 1 to 3 percent of human body mass but play a vital role in human health, said CU-Boulder Associate Professor Rob Knight of the BioFrontiers Institute. "Many people were sampled so we could get a better idea of variability, and how microbes work together in complex communities," he said.

The trick now is to understand why some pathogens turn deadly under what conditions, said Knight, also a faculty member in the chemistry and biochemistry and computer science departments.

The new findings on the microbial mapping project were published in a series of reports published June 14 in the journal Nature and several journals in the Public Library of Science, or PLoS. Launched in 2007, the HMP received $156 million from the NIH Common Fund, an initiative that finances high-impact, large-scale research. Knight is a co-author on the two Nature studies.

In 2009, a group of researchers from CU-Boulder and the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis led by Knight developed the first atlas of bacterial diversity across the human body. The study, published in Science magazine, used swab samples from nine volunteers targeting 27 specific sites on the body, sh
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Contact: Rob Knight
Rob.Knight@colorado.edu
303-492-1984
University of Colorado at Boulder
Source:Eurekalert

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