International effort to study role of body microbes in human health
23 October 2008
Scientists from around the globe, meeting last week in Heidelberg,
Germany, formed the International Human Microbiome Consortium (IHMC),
which will co-ordinate research to characterize the relationship of the
human microbiome in the maintenance of health and in disease.
The human microbiome is the collective genomes of all microorganisms
living in or on the human body. These microorganisms are suspected of
having a role in a wide range of human diseases such as diabetes,
asthma, obesity and digestive disorders.
The IHMC will generate a shared data resource from international
projects that will be made freely available to the global scientific
community. Research organizations from all nations supporting similar
research efforts are invited to become participants.
In related news, leaders from the National Institutes of Health (NIH),
part of the United States Department of Health and Human Services,
signed a letter of intent in September with the European Commission (EC)
officially agreeing to combine the data from the NIH Human Microbiome
Project and the EC Metagenomics of the Human Intestinal Tract (MetaHIT)
project. Both projects, which are already under way, will contribute an
initial set of microbial genomes to the IHMC.
Current participants in the IHMP include:
- Australia: Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research
- Canada: Canadian Institute of Health Research and Genome Canada;
- China: Ministry Of Science and Technology
- Europe: European Commission; and
- United States: National Institutes of Health.
The IHMC will be guided by a steering committee made up of one
representative from each country’s research funding agency, as well as a
representative from each scientific project. The steering committee is
charged with maintaining standards related to quality assurance of data,
coordination of microbial strains for complete genome sequencing
projects, data access and release and informed consent, in addition to
other issues which need the committee’s input.
The IHMC is open for membership from any researchers who agree to the
consortium’s principles, which include:
- open, free and rapid data release in accordance with donor
- common quality standards for data;
- sharing of protocols and informed consent documents;
- sharing of information about progress of each project; and
- a common publication policy.
Trillions of microorganisms live in and on the human body. Scientists
have recently begun sequencing the DNA of microbial communities to learn
how microbes can help maintain our health or contribute to disease. For
instance, research has suggested that fluctuations in the composition of
microbial communities contribute to diabetes, asthma, obesity and a
variety of digestive disorders.
Each participating research group plans to focus on describing
different body sites and diseases, while the US and EC will also
contribute to a reference set of completely sequenced microbial genomes.
Data generated by IHMC projects will be made available through the
NIH Human Microbiome Project Data Analysis and Coordination Center, led
by Owen White, PhD, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore
and an equivalent center at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL),
led by Peer Bork, PhD.
The data will also be distributed to other public databases,
including those supported by the National Center for Biotechnology
), part of the US National Library of Medicine.
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