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Human Microbiome Project: Diversity of Human Microbes Greater Than Previously Predicted

The Human Microbiome Project (HMP) has published an analysis of 178 genomes from microbes that live in or on the human body. The researchers discovered novel genes and proteins that serve functions in human health and disease, adding a new level of understanding to what is known about the complexity and diversity of these organisms.

The human microbiome consists of all the microorganisms that reside in or on the human body. Outnumbering cells in the human body by 10 to 1, some of the microorganisms cause illnesses, but many are necessary for good health. Currently, researchers can grow only some of the bacteria, fungi and viruses in a laboratory setting. However, new genomic techniques can identify minute amounts of microbial DNA in an individual and determine its identity by comparing the genetic signature to known sequences in the project's data base.

The paper is published in the May 21 issue of the journal Science.

"This initial work lays the foundation for this ambitious project and is critical for understanding the role that the microbiome plays in human health and disease," said National Institutes of Health Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. "We are only at the very beginning of a fascinating voyage that will transform how we diagnose, treat and ultimately, prevent many health conditions."
 
 

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