By Michael DeForge / Wired article A new study from researchers at Johns Hopkins University shows how to grow and use a human microbiome that is not only helpful to human health, but also potentially useful for the human race.
In addition to identifying novel bacteria and viruses, the researchers also developed a way to cultivate the microbiome to help humans heal and live longer.
“We’ve known that we can grow and produce a human microbiota, but we’ve never really been able to grow it on our own, so this is really the first time we’ve been able,” said study author and bioengineer Dr. Rui Yu, who is also the associate dean for graduate studies at Johns.
Yu and his team used a synthetic method known as bioinformatics to mimic the natural gut microbiome to produce the bacteria that make up the human gut, and to produce a novel virus to help control the pathogen and disease it causes.
The study, titled “Creating a human microbial genome by hybridization and gene editing: A novel strategy for a synthetic human microbiome,” is published in the journal Bioinformatica.
The researchers have already found that a synthetic microbiome can be produced on a computer and then transplanted into the human body, Yu said.
In this new study, the team found that they could grow a synthetic gut microbiome on a single host cell.
They then created a synthetic virus that is capable of attacking the bacteria.
“The synthetic virus we engineered, which is a gene-editing program, can target specific bacteria and kill them,” Yu said, “so it’s like a weapon in a war against the bacteria.”
In addition, the synthetic virus can also control how the human microbiome behaves.
“This synthetic virus is capable in the sense that it’s not limited to a single cell, it can control how many bacteria it infects,” Yu explained.
“It can be a single bacterium that is going to infect one of the host cells.”
Yu said the new study is the first of its kind to look at a synthetic genome, a genetic blueprint that is designed to be more versatile than a single genetic sequence.
The scientists have developed an artificial virus that was specifically designed to attack a specific bacterial strain.
Yu said that their research showed that it is possible to design a synthetic genetic blueprint to mimic how bacteria in the human genome work and act in a specific way.
The synthetic bacterial genome that the researchers created was also able to kill bacteria that were not part of the human host’s microbiome.
The team also found that it was possible to control how certain strains of bacteria grow and evolve.
“In order to make these new synthetic viruses, you need to create a synthetic bacterial host cell that has certain characteristics, so it’s a synthetic bacteria,” Yu added.
The authors also found a way of controlling which bacteria were produced from which host cells.
“If you have a bacterial strain that you want to attack, you can use this program to create new bacteria in a certain cell and insert them into the host cell, and then insert these bacteria back into the same cell,” Yu told Wired.
“But if you have different bacterial strains, you have to use different techniques to make those new bacteria.
We found that this allows you to create different synthetic bacteria that are able to evolve in a different way.”
Yu’s team is currently looking to develop a synthetic drug that could be used in the treatment of diseases.
The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
The project was published in Bioinformatica.