23, me — and my microbiome

Home genome tests are missing out on 99% of the genes in your body.

It turns out you’re more bacteria than human — at least by cell count. Across the dark and hidden recesses of your digestive tract lives a vast, dynamic ecosystem of microbes. The exact mix reflects your genes, diet, age and even your social group. This “gut microbiome” also reflects your health — but could it change your health as well?

Gut bacteria may play a role in cancer, Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis, to name just a few.

The 2018 Spotlight finalist The Gut Microbiome in Health and Disease presents powerful new evidence that gut bacteria can be part of both the cause of disease and the cure. It also adds much-needed detail on important disease–microbiome associations, and equips the field with improved methods for microbiome analysis.

In an active field the Research Topic has already achieved distinction, with an average of more than 3 citations per article and a total of more than 60,000 article views and 8,200 article downloads.

Dr Nathan Schmidt explains why he and fellow microbiologists and immunologists Drs Venkatakrishna Jala, Michele Kosiewicz and Pascale Alard launched this Research Topic, some of its outcomes, and what winning the 2018 Frontiers Spotlight Award would mean for this emerging and exciting field.

Why was this Research Topic created?

“The last two decades have produced an avalanche of studies revealing the impact that the microbiome — bacteria, virus and fungi — has on the physiology and metabolism of the host,” says Schmidt.

“This raises the hope that if gut bacteria contribute to a disease, we could improve the outcome by modifying these bacteria.

Such diseases include intestinal disorders like inflammatory bowel disease, enteric cancers and diarrhoeal infections — and even Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis and cardiovascular risk factors.”

This treatment approach has already had some success.

“Transplanting stool — full of gut microbes — from healthy donors has become a routine treatment for patients with antibiotic-resistant diarrheal infections, and shows promise in clinical trials for type 2 diabetes and ulcerative colitis.”

But more research is needed before methods to modify the microbiome can be applied to other diseases, Schmidt believes.

“The field is ripe for a greater understanding of the basic biology of gut bacteria and the mechanisms by which they contribute to medical conditions, in order to translate these findings into treatments. Our Research Topic answers the call.”

What type of research is included?

The Gut Microbiome in Health and Disease is founded on the same modern genome-sequencing techniques that enabled the current golden era of microbiome research. It both advances these technologies and applies them to new diseases and conditions.

“The insurgence in research is largely driven by DNA sequencing technologies that do not require culturing bacteria in the lab. These new methods allow fast, accurate identification of the abundance and distribution of diverse bacteria present in the gut.  Additional technological advances have allowed for improved growth and characterization of these microbes.”

What are some outcomes of this Research Topic?

One major achievement of the Research Topic is further refinement of techniques for analyzing gut bacteria.

“Some studies improved the accuracy of microbiome analysis, using methods to remove contaminant bacterial DNA from samples. This could be applied to better identify pre-term infants at risk of developing a type of deadly bowel inflammation, for example.

“Another proposes the first universal sampling and processing guidelines for mapping the 3D distribution of microbe species in a sample — e.g. in the oral cavity or a bowel biopsy.”

Other studies deepen our understanding of known gut microbiome associations with rectal and gastric cancers, as well as with cardiovascular risk factors like abnormal cholesterol profile and high blood pressure.

“One article hypothesizes that reduced LDL cholesterol levels among vegetarians could be explained by their ‘protective’ profile of gut bacteria. Similarly, a study on people with hypertension found a less diverse bacterial population with reduced metabolism of amino acids, vitamins and other micro-nutrients.”

Most exciting of all is new evidence implicating gut bacteria in two severely debilitating illnesses for which there is no effective treatment or cure.

“All licensed oral medications for multiple sclerosis were found to inhibit in vitro growth of Clostridium perfringens — lending striking support to a suspected involvement of this gut bacterium in the disease.

“Equally compelling is the report that Alzheimer's patients have substantially raised levels of lipopolysaccharide — a highly neurotoxic molecule secreted by gut bacteria — in their brain.”

Why should this Research Topic win the 2018 Spotlight Award?

Schmidt believes a win would help to translate these discoveries into new therapies.

“These are fascinating insights, but for many of these diseases it is difficult to establish a causal link to gut bacteria — and thereby inform rational treatment design. As we aim increasingly for personalized medicine, it is also important to understand the role of the gut microbiome in treatment response.

“A conference built around our Research Topic would help to attract the talent and investment required to build on its findings, towards these goals.”

About the Frontiers Spotlight Award

The annual Frontiers Spotlight Award supports emerging and important fields of research published as a Research Topic in Frontiers journals. The winning team of Topic Editors receives US$100,000 to organize an international scientific conference on the theme of their successful Research Topic. Learn more about the Award

About Frontiers Research Topics

Research Topics are peer-reviewed article collections published around specialized themes. They bring together leading researchers from different institutions, locations and fields of interest, who collaborate and contribute articles.

Published on Frontiers’ award-winning platform, Research Topics are fully open and accessible, and become highly visible collections of work, enhancing both the readership and citations of articles. Learn more about Research Topics

How to enter

Every Research Topic that closes within the award period and is completed with at least 10 articles, will be considered for the Spotlight Award. Shape your field and have the chance to organize your own conference – suggest your Research Topic today!

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Research Topic Editors

Nathan W. Schmidt     University of Louisville, United States

Nathan W. Schmidt
University of Louisville,
United States

Venkatakrishna Rao Jala     University of Louisville, United States

Venkatakrishna Rao Jala
University of Louisville, United States

Pascale Alard     University of Louisville, United States  -    Michele Marie Kosiewicz     University of Louisville, United States

Pascale Alard
University of Louisville,
United States


Michele Marie Kosiewicz
University of Louisville, United States