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that live in our bodies. As the microbiome helps break down food, our food in turn affects the microbiome. As your mother used to say, you are what you eat, says Casey Morrow, Ph.D., UAB professor of cell, devel- opmental and integrative biology and Cancer Center senior scientist. If you eat well, that helps the microbes keep in symbiosis with the body. If not, that disruption of the microbes will cause a dysbiosis. With regards to the microbiome, most of our lives are spent trying to balance this symbiosis with dysbiosis.

Studies have shown that shifts in the populations of these microbial communities can be associated with acute and chronic diseases such as inflamma- tory bowel disease, obesity, cardiovascular disease, eczema and other skin disease, and cancer. Because of the large amount of microbes in the gut, colorec- tal cancer in particular is a concern for those with an unhealthy microbiome. Microbes can help the immune system, and they can hurt the immune sys-

tem, Dr. Morrow says. Maintaining that balance is what keeps the microbi- ome in check and reduces your risk for cancer and other diseases.

The Microbiome & Research The human microbiome project was an

initiative started by the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute nearly

a decade ago, with the goal of using new technolo- gies to characterize the human microbiome more fully. Previously, a molecular biologist would take a saliva, tissue or fecal sample, examine each indi- vidual DNA sequence and then consult a database to determine the types of microbes present. With the development of next-generation, or NextGen, sequencing, however, the ability to analyze microbes and their DNA has improved dramatically. Now scientists are able to sequence each of the individual

molecules, which results in hundreds of thousands of sequences.

This technology allows us to measure and determine microbial DNA, and this capability didn t exist 10 or 15 years ago, Dr. Morrow says. Previously, the only way to determine what was in the gut bacteria was to perform cul- tures and try to sequence as many as possible. But we had no way of knowing what was really there. NextGen sequencing allows us to determine the DNA, which is unique to each bacteria, so we know exactly what is there.

A microbiome analysis represents a team effort of Cancer Center scientists. The process starts in

Dr. Morrow s lab where Peter Eipers, Ph.D., isolates DNA from the sample, which is then transferred for NextGen DNA sequencing to the Cancer Center s Gene Expression Shared Facility, led by Michael Crowley, Ph.D., director of the UAB Heflin Center for Genomic Science. The DNA sequence is then electronically transferred to the Bioinformatics Core, headed by Elliot Lefkowitz, Ph.D., a pro- fessor in the UAB Department of Microbiology, who, along with Ranjit Kumar, Ph.D., and Travis Ptacek, Ph.D., determine which microbe sequences are present in the sample and report back to the initial investigators. Another vital component is the Gnotobiotic Animal Core, led by Craig Maynard, Ph.D., and Casey Weaver, M.D., a professor in the UAB Department of Pathology, which provides the necessary animal models and technology to perform early-phase studies prior to human trials. With the research already being conducted across UAB, as

NextGen

sequencing allows

us to determine

the DNA, which

is unique to each

bacteria, so we

know exactly

what is there.

Casey Morrow, Ph.D.