Biology and You

You, Bacteria, and Viruses

What is the Human Microbiome Project?

In an effort comparable to the Human Genome Project (for more about the HGP, see the chapter “Biology in the Laboratory”), a five-year federal endeavor was started called the Human Microbiome Project, trying to understand more about humans’ good bacteria. Two hundred scientists at eighty institutions sequenced the genetic material of these bacteria from about 250 healthy individuals to discover even more about the good bacteria we take for granted in our bodies. For example, one offshoot of the project is the American Gut project in which citizen-scientists help by comparing the microbes in a person’s gut with people in other places around the world. In particular, the participants need to share information about factors that can affect the gut’s microbiome— from your age and what you eat or drink to where you live or have lived before—so scientists can understand if the creatures we hold in our guts are dependent on such things as climate, your genetics, or maybe even something else.


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