The human mouth is filled with all sorts of bacteria, some of which are essential to our survival and some of which can cause some rather nasty diseases. Unfortunately, telling the difference has been a massive challenge for oral biology, since the majority of the bacteria found in the mouth do not grow in laboratory dishes. Now, though, bioresearchers at Ohio State University have sequenced the genome of one such bacterium linked to the gum disease periodontitis.
Over 60 percent of the bacteria from the human mouth have never been classified or even named. To sequence one of them is extremely exciting: in fact, the specimen in question, Tannerella BU063, tops the “wanted” list of genomes of the Human Microbiome Project. This is because it’s a very close relative of Tannerella forsythia, a known cause of gum disease.
Since mouth bacteria are so ill understood, treating gum disease is usually a process of deep cleaning or surgical removing of infected areas as opposed to antibiotic treatment. Tannerella forsythia can be grown in the lab, but it’s not yet clear how it instigates gum disease in the first place. With the genome of Tannerella BU063, the closest known relative of forsythia, oral biologist Clifford Beall (left) and his team were able to pinpoint the genes most likely to be responsible for infection.
“We looked for genes that were present in…forsythia and not in BU063. There is one particular gene complex in a whole list of these periodontitis-related bacteria that could be involved with virulence,” he elaborates in an Ohio State research news statement. This gene complex included genes which have the ability to damage tissue as well as those which can deactivate immune responses. Beall suspects these sorts of genes contribute to the start of periodontitis. The team took these genes and compared them to other bacteria suspected of causing gum disease to see which others could be responsible. “One of the tantalizing things about this study was the ability to do random searches of other bacteria whose levels are higher in periodontitis,” says Beall. The study’s next aim is to develop ways to target these particular genes in treatment.
Funding for this research was provided in part by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research and the National Human Genome Research Institute. For more detail on the funding for research at Ohio State University, peruse our Ohio State University Funding Report:
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