What’s the microbiome, and why is it important?
The human microbiome is a collection of all of the bacteria that live inside our bodies and all of the genes that they have. Scientists have found that we each have as many as 30 trillion bacteria in our own microbiome, and most of them live in our gut.
The bacteria in the microbiome are usually beneficial to humans. They can even be essential to our health. However, some are linked to diseases such as Type 1 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. These diseases are becoming more common all over the world.
What’s the microbiome’s role in various diseases?
The short answer: scientists don’t know exactly how the microbiome influences the beginning and development of disease, but they know that it plays an important role. That’s why our group–consisting of researchers from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital, University of California San Diego, and the Simons Foundation’s Flatiron Institute–is partnering with World Community Grid on the Microbiome Immunity Project. The project’s goal is to study all the proteins (the building blocks of organisms) of the human microbiome, so that we and other researchers have a strong foundation to address these diseases.
In order to uncover the microbiome’s role in the development of diseases, we need to first study the proteins produced by the bacteria in the microbiome. Learning about these proteins is important because proteins perform cell functions– they can interact with each other to form larger structures, they can carry out chemical reactions, bind on to other macromolecules in the cell, transport smaller molecules, or carry out a host of other roles within cells.
So far, there has not been a study of the human microbiome on this scale. Researchers have studied individual bacteria and specific proteins in the microbiome, but never all the proteins that are made by all the different bacteria. When you have trillions of bacteria to study in the gut alone, this becomes a monumental task.
We, like most research organizations, don’t have anywhere near the amount of computing power needed to take on such a task.
You can help!
We’re enlisting the help of volunteers like you from all over the world to support the Microbiome Immunity Project. Together, World Community Grid volunteers provide researchers like us with the enormous computing power we need to carry out studies that would not otherwise be possible.
“Without World Community Grid, we wouldn’t have even contemplated this project.”
Rob Knight, PhD
Professor, Departments of Pediatrics
and Computer Science & Engineering
Director, Center for Microbiome Innovation
Co-Principal Investigator, Microbiome Immunity Project
Here’s how it works: As a World Community Grid volunteer, you download a secure software program to your computer. And when your computer has any unused processing power, it will run a simulated experiment for us in the background. As we receive the results of these simulations, we’ll analyze the data to find the most likely structure for each of the proteins in the microbiome. This will help us understand the role of these proteins and therefore allow us to unlock new strategies for treating diseases impacted by the microbiome.
With thousands of volunteers running millions of simulations, we can get this crucial work done in just a few years, instead of decades. And in keeping with World Community Grid’s open data policy, we’re committed to making the data publicly available to other scientists, which will help accelerate the advancement of scientific knowledge in this important area of research.
The more volunteers we have for this project, the more quickly we can get this done! Thanks for joining us!