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Bioinformatics revealing secrets of the human microbiome

human microbiome

7 October 2019

Novel molecules have antimicrobial properties, according to new research.

Muriel Cozier

Bioinformatics is helping researchers discover gene clusters hidden in the human microbiome, whose products resemble clinically used drugs.

The composition of the human microbiome has been correlated with several health-promoting, as well as disease states. But the mechanisms and molecules governing the functions of the microbiota remain largely unexplored. Research has shown the microbiome can produce an array of small molecule products, however, systematic approaches for discovering and characterisation these are lacking.

A team led by Yuki Sugimoto at Princeton University, New Jersey, US, have reported in the journal Science that they have developed a computational algorithm, MetaBGC, designed to identify biologically active small molecules encoded directly in human microbiome-derived sequencing data.

MetaBGC was tested by running it on human microbiome samples, searching for TII-PKS biosynthetic gene cluster (BGC), a class of small molecule that has never been reported from the human microbiome. The researchers discovered several novel TII-PKS BGCs in three sites of the body; the mouth, gut and skin, indicating that this class of molecules is indeed encoded in human-derived metagenomes despite not having been reported from common isolates of the human microbiome.  In addition, several of the novel TII-PKS BGCs were found to have antimicrobial activity against neighbouring microbes as well as anti-cancer effects. Further studies on human microbiome samples from populations in the US, Denmark, Spain, Fiji and China, all indicated the efficacy of the approach.

DOI: 10.1126/science.aax9176

Source URL: Sciencemag publisher AAAS the Science Society

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