The idea that microscopic organisms can successfully live inside the human body is not a new one. Some of the first microbiological studies, dating back about 350 years, found that microscopic organisms, such as bacteria and yeast, inhabit the human body. Even so, it was not until the early 2000’s that researchers began to understand that these microbes are a critical aspect of human health. These microbes, which are estimated to exist in quantities that outnumber human cells, can be found in all parts of the human body that are exposed to the outside world (i.e. the gut, skin, mouth, and urogenital systems). The study of these organisms, which are collectively called microbiota, has led to the emergence of a new research field around the “microbiome.”
Due to the success of numerous research projects in the rapidly developing microbiome field, including the NIH-led Human Microbiome Project, scientists now know that a person’s microbiome is integral to their overall health. Scientists are working to answer important questions and establish a comprehensive understanding of the microbiome’s role in human health. Just recently, a supplement in The Journal of Infectious Diseases illuminated a suite of research papers on the human microbiome, many of which were conducted with NIAID support or involvement. Through studying the microbiome, researchers may gain insight into how our fight against infectious diseases may lead to antimicrobial-resistant pathogens.
To get a better sense of the current state of microbiome research, the NIAID Now Blog checked in with Dr. Ryan Ranallo, a NIAID Program Officer and Co-Chair for the Trans-NIH Microbiome Working Group.