It's a good thing that scientists have long abandoned the idea that simply decoding the human genome will unlock the knowledge they need to create new treatments. The reality could be at least 10,000 times more complicated. In fact, researchers counted more than 10,000 microbes, with about 100 times more genes than the human genome, living on or inside men and women in a massive research effort called the Human Microbiome Project.
The mixture of microbes in our bodies throws on a huge layer of complexity regarding understanding their roles in human health. At Harvard School of Public Health, researchers used computational methods in a project to analyze 3.5 terabytes of data on microbial genes to help them pinpoint the 350 or so bugs humans carry that are most important. Bioinformatics tools promise to provide a crucial component to organizing the vast amounts of data from the human microbiome.
Biotech investors have already begun to place some early bets on this nascent field. In the Boston area, PureTech Ventures has started at least two microbiome-focused startups called Libra Biosciences and Vedanta Biosciences. Flagship Ventures has seeded a startup in this area called Seres Health, according to In Vivo Blog. On the West Coast, Mountain View, CA-based biotech Onsel and others are also seeking ways to turn our understanding about microbes in the body into powerful new medicines.
Clarification: The first page of this article was updated to clarify that the Broad Institute's IT group supports rather than manages a number of bioinformatics tools to aid scientists with analyzing large amounts of biological data. In academic circles, we were told, managing the tools is viewed much differently than supporting them.