Mission Statement: The goals of the Microbiome Program are to understand the human microbiome and alter its properties to improve health.
The Human Microbiome Project is the largest project ever in Microbiology, and has been prominently advanced by work at Penn and CHOP.
The human body is a community of organisms, more like a coral reef than a single fish. Numerous microbes inhabit our bodies, and as with organisms on a reef, some are mutualists, helping the reef grow and prosper, some are neither helpful nor harmful, while others are pathogenic and degrade the reef material.
The bugs living in association with humans contribute a pound or two to the weight of a healthy adult. The bulk of these organisms are in the gut, but many body sites are colonized by microbes, which form distinct communities at each location. These communities contribute numerous biological functions. Some are important in health, such as promoting proper immune development and aiding digestion. Others harm the human host and cause disease.
Methods for studying the microbiome have greatly improved in recent years, leading to an explosion of new research. In particular, the development of extremely high throughput DNA sequencing methods has allowed characterization of mixed microbial communities using DNA sequence information. This allows quantification of communities at specific body site in different people, which has shown that humans can be very different from each other. These methods also allow researchers to investigate changes in the microbiome associated with disease states.
It is as though a new organ has been discovered, made up of microbial cells and not human cells.
Today the microbiome is known to influence the course of numerous diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, autism and obesity to name a few. Based on these findings, the PennCHOP Microbiome Program is using new understanding of the microbiome to design interventions to promote health and cure disease.