Monday, 29 April 2019 06:15

Researchers says marine sponge tests may help human microbiome analysis

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Researchers says marine sponge tests may help human microbiome analysis Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay

Researchers from Flinders University say they have used marine sponges to develop a new means of reading complex microbial populations, and the same technique could be used to improve analysis of the human microbiome.

Marine sponges were chosen for study by researchers from the university's Centre for Marine Bio-products Development because they are believed to be the oldest existing animals, dating back about 750 million years.

A statement from the university said sponge tissue was made up of about 60% bacteria which made it the ideal means to study microbial diversity.

According to Wikipedia, a microbiome is a community of micro-organisms (such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses) that inhabit a particular environment; in particular, the term refers to the collection of micro-organisms living in or on the human body.

The Flinders team used a multi-primer approach to uncover taxonomic "blind spots" and recorded greatly improved results.

"For example, compared to a maximum of 41 microbial phyla reported by the global sponge microbiome survey of 81 sponge species, the Flinders University team revealed 57 phyla from only four local sponge species," the statement said.

Professor Wei Zhang, lead author of the research, said: “This breakthrough marks a significant improvement in our ability to expand our knowledge of microbiomes."

His colleague, Professor Chris Franco, used the well-known poem about the blind men who went to examine an elephant to explain how effective the new multi-primer gene reading technique had been

“Previously, using the current single-primer method, researchers only described different parts of the microbiome, while we are now able to see the whole ‘elephant’,” Professor Franco said.

Post-doctoral researcher Dr Qi Yang, who began the research during her PhD candidature, said: “We were able to obtain sequence coverage of all the variable regions of the 16S rRNA ‘signature gene’ to analyse the amplicon-based microbiomes.

“From this initial examination of marine sponges, we are now confident that it can be applied across all microbiomes – including human microbiome studies.

“This will have many possible implications. For example, to better understand the human gut, we will now be able to identify many more types of bacteria, to obtain a more complete picture of the human microbiome.”

The findings have been published in Scientific Reports, part of Nature, the international journal of science.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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