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New research method provides better insights into the world of microbes

27 July 2012 Université du Luxembourg

A team of Luxembourg-based researchers, working at the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine, has developed a research method that will allow scientists to study microbes in more depth than ever before.

Microbes, such as bacteria, fungi and viruses, are invisible to the human eye but have been identified just about everywhere on earth: in soil, water, and air.  Many different types of microbes usually live closely together in ‘microbial communities’.

Microbial communities also reside in the human body, which is home to trillions of these tiny organisms. Biologists have long suggested that microbes in the human body can cause or contribute to some human diseases, such as diabetes.  The new research method might soon be able to prove this hypothesis.

“In order for us to understand the impact that microbes might have on human health, we need to be able to measure the biomolecular information contained within the DNA, RNA (ribonucleic acid), proteins, and small molecules of microbes in a truly systematic way. This was not possible until now”, explains Dr. Paul Wilmes, who runs the Eco-Systems Biology lab at the LCSB.

Using the method described by Wilmes, researchers can, for the first time, measure and integrate all the important biomolecular information from a single sample, providing scientists with high-resolution molecular snapshots of microbial communities in, for example, the human stomach and intestine.

The research method developed by Wilmes can also be applied to microbial communities found in other environments. In this particular study, authors used, for example, microbes that grow in wastewater treatment plants and that accumulate large amounts of high-energy fats. By using Wilmes’ new research method, scientist can do in-depth studies on these communities. “Once these microbial communities are better understood, we might be able to exploit these communities for the comprehensive reclamation of energy-rich fats from wastewater”, says Dr. Paul Wilmes.

This work was carried out within the realm of a Luxembourg National Research Fund ATTRACT grant.

http://www.nature.com/ismej/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/ismej201272a.html

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