We're finding out that there's a lot more to malnutrition among infants and children than just not getting enough to eat, or enough high-quality food. Individuals may develop malnutrition as a result of what is or isn't growing in their gut, where food gets processed. It's a fascinating insight with significant implications for treating a deadly world problem. In addition to getting sufficient good food, malnutrition could be addressed with novel dietary and microbial therapeutics, effectively optimizing a person's ability to draw nutrients and calories from the food and drink they take in, as well as making sure the immune system is being supported rather than compromised in the process.
[June 2012 Scientific American cover article also explores the human microbiome]
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation exists to fund scientific projects with the kind of potential to make real change on the world health front, and to that end they've recently awarded $8.3M to a research study led by a Washington University St Louis School of Medicine team, in partnership with investigators at the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of California Davis, with a small number of other participants globally. The study is known as the Breast Milk, Gut Microbiome and Immunity Project, or BMMI, and it's really the next stage of research for Dr. Jeffrey Gordon at WUSTL, who began studying the interaction between food (mostly milk), gut flora, and immunity in malnourished children with a $5.5M Gates award in 2009.
In the new BMMI project, CU-Boulder BioFrontiers professor of biochemistry, Rob Knight (left), along with lab researchers from the IQ Biology graduate program (which immerses doctoral students in semester-long rotations in mathematical biology, computational biology, biophysics and bio-imaging), will host the Gates Foundation study database integrating various types of information on the gut microbiome. The Knight lab team will develop methods for high-throughput genome sequencing and analysis of bacterial genomes from “personalized culture collections,” in which hundreds of strains of bacteria will be isolated and characterized from the intestines of individual people. Knight says of the BMMI study:
“Our hope is that by understanding the differences in individual gut microbial communities in both healthy and malnourished individuals, together with influences in diet including compounds and microbes transferred in breast milk, we will be able to better understand and develop new treatments for malnutrition...Such treatments could include prebiotics, probiotics, antibiotics or nutrition which might help reverse severe malnutrition in different individuals.”
Knight goes on to say that the personalized culture collections will be used to colonize lab mice in different combinations to test which microbial strains are most important. This mouse phase of the research project will be carried out in conjunction with researchers at UC Davis (read an earlier blog on Davis' genomic mouse resources here).
The BioFrontiers Institute researchers began moving into their new labs in the Jennie Smoly Caruthers Biotechnology Building earlier this year. (Read more about the interdisciplinary bioscience program and the biotech complex in our past CU-Boulder blogs.) Dr. Knight is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Early Career Scientist.
Biotechnology Calendar, Inc. will hold its 14th annual Boulder BioResearch Product Faire event on June 13, 2012 at the University of Colorado campus. Each year we bring together researchers in the Boulder life science community with top laboratory equipment and service providers to discuss the latest developments in lab technology. For information on this well-attended product show and networking event, click the button below:
We also host a Sacramento BioResearch Product Faire event at the UC Davis Medical School campus, being held next on June 5, 2012.
Check out our entire 2012 National Schedule too!