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December 23, 2019

Neighborhood Watch

NSF-funded researchers are using their pattern-recognition algorithm to identify microbial communities in the body by sifting through volumes of genetic code. Their method could speed the development of medical treatments for microbiota-linked ailments like Crohn’s disease.

Credit: National Science Foundation/Karson Productions


I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

Getting to know your microbiota. A “society” of thousands of species of microbes in your body that help with digestion, metabolism…even fighting disease. Researchers at Drexel University have found a new way to I.D. communities in that society, and how they operate.

Scientists have been trying to understand the health effects of imbalances in our microbiome. But to properly correct these, you need to know which species are where; how they act and interact with other species in the community…in healthy people and those suffering from disease.

Researchers can figure out which organisms are likely present by taking a sample from part of the body and studying the genetic material. The Drexel team goes farther. They’ve developed an algorithm that sifts through huge amounts of genetic code in a sample. It spots patterns that indicate which microbe species in the society are living in communities and may be working together to accomplish larger functions.

The presence of certain communities could help identify microbiota-related diseases like Crohn’s or specific cancers. Compared to current diagnostics, the new method is just as accurate, but tons faster. Minutes versus days.

Showing promise for speeding progress toward treatments and cures.

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