Dental

The amazing, diverse bacteria that live in your mouth

Researchers take a closer look at the genomes of microbial communities in the human mouth

Source: Harvard University, Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology

Bacteria often show very strong biogeography — some bacteria are abundant in specific locations while absent from others — leading to major questions when applying microbiology to therapeutics or probiotics: how did the bacteria get into the wrong place? How do we add the right bacteria into the right place when the biogeography has gotten ‘out of whack’?

Source: Harvard University, Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology

In a recent study published in Genome Biology, Harvard University researchers looked at the human oral microbiome and discovered a lot of diversity in the bacterial subpopulations that live in different parts of the mouth. “As microbial ecologists, we’re intrigued by how bacteria can appear to divide any environment into different niches, but as humans, we also have an inherent curiosity about how microbes pattern themselves inside our bodies,” said lead author Daniel R. Utter, a PhD candidate at Harvard University’s Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology.

Recent advances in sequencing and bioinformatics have opened up new avenues for unraveling the complexities of bacterial populations. Utter and Colleen Cavanaugh, the Edward C. Jeffrey Professor of Biology in Harvard University’s Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, collaborated with researchers from the University of Chicago’s Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole. According to co-author A. Murat Eren, assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Chicago, “the mouth is the best place to research microbial cultures.” “Not only is it the start of the GI tract, but it’s also a very unique and limited area with enough microbial diversity that we can really start to address fascinating questions about microbiomes.”

“Every environment we look at has these very complicated, dynamic populations of bacteria,” Mark Welch explained. “Understanding why these cultures are so complicated and how the various bacteria interact will help us better understand how to repair a bacterial population that’s causing us harm by indicating which microbes need to be removed or put back in,” says the researcher. This research, along with others like it, could shed light on the function of oral microbes in human health. “Identifying particular genes involved in habitat adaptation has been a ‘holy grail’ in microbial ecology,” Utter said. “We’re really looking forward to making a contribution in this field!”

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