Cheaper, faster, and more accurate rapid gene sequencing technologies show great promise in identifying infectious disease agents
In clinical laboratories across the nation, microbiology has greatly benefited from the introduction of molecular diagnostics in clinical practice. Now the field of microbiology is poised to undergo a more profound transformation of clinical practice, due to advances in whole genome sequencing.
Leaders in this field are calling these developments “transformative” and say they have the potential to change “all aspects of microbiology.” The driver to this emerging trend is advanced technology that makes it possible to sequence the whole gene sequence of an organism in a day or less, for a cost that is $1,000 and falling rapidly.
In the past six months, microbiologists and pathologists at such hospitals as Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas, have begun to do whole genome sequencing of microbes found in specimens collected from patients arriving in the emergency room. The New York Times wrote about these developments in a story titled “The New Generation of Microbe Hunters,” that it published on August 29, 2011.
With $175 Million in Funding, Human Microbiome Project is Making Rapid Progress
Research into the human microbiome is expected to trigger development of new diagnostic tests that will be offered by clinical pathology laboratories. That’s because the organisms that live on us and in us are as unique to individuals as their DNA, and scientists believe these microbes may be just as important to health. Which microbes and how much they matter to the host’s health are the questions a consortium of researchers involved in the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) hope to answer.
This five-year, $157-million project, funded by the National Institutes of Health, will sequence and classify 900 microbes believed to play a role in human health. Analysis of the sequences of the first 178 microbes, which was published in the May 21 issue of Science, held some surprises, particularly in regard to the extent and complexity of microbial diversity. About 90% of their DNA was previously unknown. The study also identified novel genes and proteins that contribute to human health and disease.
Human Microbiome Project is expected to trigger many new molecular diagnostic assays
Meet the human microbiome, considered by some medical researchers to be the newest biomedical frontier. A major effort to map the human microbiome is expected to identify a significant number of new biomarkers that will be useful in both clinical pathology diagnostic tests and therapeutic drug development.
Known as the Human Microbiome Project, the five-year program is funded with $115 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Researchers are well on their way to produce a comprehensive inventory of microbes—bacteria, viruses, yeast and fungi—that live in or on the human body, along with information about their role in disease development or prevention. The overall goal of this international effort is to identify which microbes are harmful and figure out ways to prevent or treat diseases they cause.