The Human Microbiome in Health and Disease

About the Program

The PennCHOP Microbiome Program is a collaboration between the University of Pennsylvania and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to provide a variety of services to researchers who are trying to discover more about the human microbiome. Our mission is to understand the human microbiome and alter its properties to improve health.

Our program is made up of 6 cores: The Analytical Core and Sequencing Cores are located at CHOP and the Gnotobiotic Mouse Core, Acute Biobanking Core, High-Throughput Screening Core, Microbial Culture and Metabolomics Core, and the Microbiome Human Intervention Core are located at The University of Pennsylvania. To access any of the core’s services, please click on our cores page.

What is a Microbiome?

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.

It is as though a new organ has been discovered, made up of microbial cells and not human cells.

Why Support Microbiome Research?

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.

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.