Microbiome and Health

The human body is a complex ecosystem, hosting tens of billions of bacteria, mostly in the gut. This microbial community has profound effects on human health, affecting diverse functions such as metabolism, immunity, and behavior. Imbalances in the gut microbiome, as well as a lack of childhood exposure to historically important microbes, have been linked to many diseases of the urban and industrialized world, such as inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, autoimmune disorders and autism spectrum disorders. Thus, microbiome-based interventions may revolutionize our approach to diseases that affect tens of millions of people worldwide. To understand the mechanisms of human-bacterial interactions that impact health, we have built an initial collection of gut bacterial strains and genomes from healthy individuals, representing the bacterial diversity of urban North American populations. This North American resource is the first stage of our library of bacterial strains, and will provide a strong foundation for developing rational, targeted, and effective microbiome-based interventions.

Urbanisation and Extinction of Microbiomes

Studies show that the gut microbiomes of peoples living in urban centers of industrialized countries around the world are very distinct and present a much poorer diversity than peoples living in rural areas of non-industrialized countries.

The consumption of processed food and the abusive use of antibiotics and sanitizers in industrialized areas contribute to this decrease of human-associated bacterial diversity. As a result, some commensal microbes that have co-evolved with us for millennia – and which represent an integral facet of human health and history – may soon go extinct.

According to the United Nations, 70% of the human populations will live in urban centers by 2050. Meaning that many communities will soon adopt some degrees of industrialization in their lifestyle and are likely to face rapid incidence of both microbiome perturbations and non-communicable diseases: e.g., asthma, allergy, IBD and diabetes.

© Global Microbiome Conservancy / Photo by C. Corzett

The time to act is now

We can counteract the ongoing loss of biodiversity now, by collecting and preserving the gut microbiome of a wide range of human populations. In our preliminary global campaign, we have collected and preserved microbiome samples and bacterial strains from non-industrialized populations in Europe, America, Africa and Asia. Our preliminary results suggest that rural populations are significant reservoirs of gut bacterial biodiversity that must be preserved.

In addition to inadequately representing the human microbiome, the historic limitation of microbiome collections to industrialized, ‘majority’ populations also propagates health-care inequities, as underrepresented groups are less likely to benefit from scientific advances tailored to well-studied populations. For this reason, the inclusion of historically underrepresented populations, including isolated and indigenous peoples, is critical.

© Global Microbiome Conservancy / Photo by F. Rondon

A Truly Global Microbial Biobank

We are collecting and preserving gut bacterial strains from diverse human populations, each population unfolding a new functional, evolutionary and epidemiological story.

We are building a Biobank of microbial strains that:

  • Represents the most comprehensive collection of human gut bacteria in the world
  • Serves as a unique, long-term public resource for ground-breaking microbiome research.
  • Preserves the unique microbial heritage of indigenous groups whose lifestyles are under threat from globalization and climate change.

© Global Microbiome Conservancy / Photo by M. Poyet

Big Questions

We will use the collected samples and data to answer fundamental questions in human and microbiome research, such as:

  • What makes us human, and what are the origins of the human microbiome?
  • How did agriculture and human migrations impact microbiome evolution?
  • How did the recent biodiversity loss in industrialized societies impact human health and can we restore this biodiversity?
  • How does the microbiome interact with the innate and adaptive immune system and how did these interactions co-evolve?
  • What are the worldwide dynamics and distribution of antimicrobial resistance genes among healthy human populations?