It sounds a little like science fiction, but when Stanford University geneticists teamed up with their colleagues in the computer science department they came up with a pretty cool new way to study the human gut. Spoiler alert: the gut may be more diverse than we thought. Not only that, but what they discovered may one day help us identify and fight infectious diseases and viruses such as Ebola.
In a nutshell, researchers devised a method—using a mathematical algorithm—to look at gut bacteria communities in a way that’s never been done before. Previously, scientists had to rely on the typical method of growing bacteria in a lab and then applying traditional gene sequencing technology to learn more about how specific bacterial species lived and worked in the body.
This new study changes things by giving scientists the ability to see a much bigger picture in terms of the bacterial communities residing in the human gut. The algorithm allows them to see longer sequences of DNA, which in turn will help better indentify and classify the bacteria and other gut organisms. “I don’t think people realized just how much diversity there was. The complexity we found was astounding,” said study co-author Michael Snyder, PhD.
A paper revealing the study’s findings was published online last month in the journal Nature Biotechnology. In it, study authors explain how they hope this new means of mapping gut diversity can one day be used to help further understand the role of gut bacteria in human health and disease.