Tuesday, October 07, 2008
$9.9 Million, Five-Year Federal Grant to the
The human body is teeming with microbes — tiny microorganisms, trillions of them, living in every surface and cavity of the body. The genetic composition of these organisms is considered to be a critical new frontier in the field of genomics, and researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Institute for Genome Sciences have been selected by the National Institutes of Health to play a central role.
The NIH has chosen Owen White, PhD, a professor of epidemiology and preventive medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and a researcher at the
The Human Microbiome Project will engage scientists throughout the
Dr. White, a bioinformatics expert, will spearhead the Human Microbiome Project Data Analysis and
“Ease of access to the information gathered as part of the Human Microbiome Project is critical to accelerating the pace of scientific discovery,” says E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, Vice President for Medical Affairs,
Claire Fraser-Liggett, PhD, director of the
“The Data Analysis and
“The Human Microbiome Project is the next generation of the human genome,” says Dr. White. “It is about studying the ecology of the organisms that are growing in association with the human body. Even healthy individuals have collections of bacteria in their mouths or on their skin that play a role in our health. There is already some research underway analyzing species of bacteria in healthy people versus unhealthy people. Studying the microbiome will enhance our overall understanding of human health.”
Dr. White and his colleagues will create a pipeline to funnel the information into their database from the Human Microbiome Project partner sites, as well as a data analysis system to organize the data accordingly. They will also establish a Web portal through which scientists can access the information, and a helpdesk that will make experts available to answer questions about the system. The project also will include community outreach such as training sessions and workshops to familiarize scientists with the bioinformatics system.
“The technology to sequence DNA has existed for a long time,” says Dr. White. “But we are still learning how to make use of the genetic information it generates.”
“The volume of data is so large, a streamlined system is needed to perform processes such as finding all the genes and figuring out what they do,” Dr. White adds. “You can’t do that on your desktop; you need a huge computer infrastructure. That’s what we will create for the Human Microbiome Project.”
On Tuesday, Oct. 7, the NIH announced its first awards under the Human Microbiome Project. The $21.2 million in grants includes Dr. White’s $9.9 million grant and 10 others, averaging about $1 million each. The projects enter new territory in genomics known as metagenomics. Genomics typically focuses on the sequencing of the DNA of one microorganism at a time. But the advanced field of metagenomics allows scientists to analyze all the DNA in all the microbes in a sample. Many of the studies funded in this first round of the project are intended to improve the techniques and technology used to identify microbes and the location and significance of their genes, according to the NIH.
All the information uncovered will be stored in the database at the
Dr. White has been with
“This new core facility really helps confirm the