New tool pinpoints origins of the gut’s bacteria


A UCLA-led research team has developed a faster and more accurate way to determine where the many bacteria that live in, and on, humans come from. Broadly, the tool can deduce the origins of any microbiome, a localized and diverse community of microscopic organisms. The new computational tool, called “FEAST,” can analyze large amounts of genetic information in just a few hours, compared to tools that take days or weeks. The software program could be used in health care, public health, environmental studies and agriculture. The study was published online in Nature Methods. A microbiome typically contains hundreds to thousands of microbial species. Microbiomes are found everywhere, from the digestive tracts of humans, to lakes and rivers that feed water supplies. The microorganisms that make up these communities can originate from their surrounding environment, including food. Knowing where these organisms come from and how these communities form can give scientists a more detailed picture of the unseen ecological processes that affect human health. The researchers developed the program to give doctors and scientists a more effective tool to investigate these phenomena. The source-tracking program gives the percentage of the microbiome that came from somewhere else. It’s similar in concept to a census that reveals the countries that its immigrant population came from, and what percentage each group is of the total population. For example, using the source-tracking tool on a kitchen counter sample can indicate how much of that sample came from humans, how much came from food, and specifically which types of food. — VoM

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