The Drown Lab has been awarded a two year grant to engage undergraduate researchers using new genomic technology to explore the Alaska soil microbiome. We’ll be traveling across the state and working with undergraduates using the latest Nanopore sequencing devices (MinIONs).
The news finally came through this past week that my first Alaska INBRE Pilot grant was awarded. The goal of the proposed research is to develop a general evolutionary theory to understand host-symbiont interactions. This is an important missing component of current investigations of the human microbiome and its interpretation in regard to human health. In terms of human pathogens, we may better understand the conditions for disease emergence as well as those that favor increases and decreases in disease virulence.
This past month, the Alaska IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) program put out a call for curriculum proposals. INBRE is supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health. An objective of the Alaska INBRE Research Training Core is to expand curricula in biomedical and health areas across the University of Alaska system. I worked with Dr. Mary Beth Leigh on a proposal that was just funded. This summer we will be developing a new course to be offered at UAF in the near future. Below is a short description.
Overview: It is now widely recognized that humans are host to a diverse assemblage of microbes (Blaser 2014b). This associated microbiota impacts the behavior, physiology and fitness of their host. The goal is to develop a new course that will broadly explore the biology of host-associated microbiomes. In the process, we will address humans as hosts and include model and non-model systems as tools for research in this complex field. This course will cover research questions on the ecology and evolution of host-associated microbiomes. Additionally, we will explore research methods and tools used to collect and analyze microbiome data.
Relevance to biomedical research: Understanding the role of the human microbiome is an important missing component of current investigations of the human health, so much so that the NIH started the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) in 2007. The HMP developed tools and initial datasets during the initial phase. Now that phase two is wrapping up, we have access to integrated datasets of both microbial communities and host properties. There is growing evidence that human health and disease are significantly impacted by host-associated microbes. The human microbiome is linked to a vast array of health concerns including: asthma and allergies (Reibman et al. 2008), cancer (Marchesi et al. 2011), malnutrition and obesity (Tilg and Kaser 2011), and autism and depression (Mulle et al. 2013). Some even argue that changes in health practices may have exacerbated these effects (e.g. increasing use of antibiotics) (Blaser 2014a).