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Human Gene Catalog Shows It's Mostly a Mystery

They live in us and on us, helping digest food and keeping acne at bay, and researchers said on Thursday that most of these germs are turning out to be new to science.

The first look at 178 different microbes that live in or on the human body shows that more than 90 percent of their genetic sequences were unknown and raise questions about how scientists classify species among micro-organisms.

"Most people don't even realize how much microbial diversity we have on and in us," said Karen Nelson of the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland, who leads the ongoing study.

"We are dependent on them for digestion of plant material and some vitamins," she added in a telephone interview.

Yet scientists know very little about the many hundreds of different types of bacteria, viruses and yeast that inhabit the skin, mouth, scalp and most of all, the gut.

"The oceans and the soils have gotten more attention than the human body," Nelson said.

Researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston; the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Washington University in St. Louis and the Venter Institute are working on the $157 million, five-year Human Microbiome Project to survey all the microbes important to human health.

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