NIH Roadmap - The Human Microbiome Project approved!

Toronto - 5/23/07: Tonight I attended the ASM satellite meeting on the Human Microbiome Project where Jane Peterson from NHGRI told us that on May 18, 2007 the Institutes and Centers' directors met to review the Roadmap proposals and that the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) was approved for immediate implementation as five year program. An announcement is on the NIH web-site.
She obviously did not mention anything about level of funding, but said that RFAs will be out late summer/early fall for funding in the summer 2008. This is really good news. Jane continued by giving a report on the NIH Roadmap workshop on the Human Microbiome Project that took place in April. One of the thing that was somewhat disappointing, but again those a just recommendations, is the way the "reference microbiome" is proposed to be established: 100 subjects (which she called a significant number) and 30-100 cavities, by "light coverage" 16S rRNA sequencing. I feel that this approach might not be appropriate and that may be a more appropriate way to start this project is to use rapid and inexpensive methods such as T-RFLP or the PhyloChip to type the microbial communities of a very large number of subjects (>1000). Such a large number of subjects should allow for clustering of community types, hence helping in selecting representative subjects from each clusters for further analysis (deep 16S rRNA gene sequencing and analysis). The selected subjects will represent larger group of individuals and the findings will be applicable to those groups as well. It is important to understand the distribution of human associated community types in the human population prior to selecting people for metagenomics analysis. Her report included recommendations from the workshop attendees on technology development (sequencing technologies and "site-specific detection and dynamic measurement of microbes at the levels of DNA, RNA and protein, metabolites, cells and their three dimensional complexes" (in situ imaging of single cells, improved culturing and sample preparation methods, as well as proteomics and other -omics technologies). She also stressed out the recommendations on bioinformatics needs, especially the development of metadata standards and data release policies. The study of diseased state was also recommended. One issue that people do not thing much about are ethical issues related to such projects. Questions of privacy and ownership are very important and will need to be addressed. Jane stressed out that this project should include the participation and coordination with the international community to reduce redundancy and share information, challenges and solutions. This is going to be a very exciting project.

The panel of speakers included Jo Handelsman, David Relman, George Weinstock and Jane Peterson. Jo Handelsman reported on the NRC report on Metagenomic, which is now available online, David Relman discussed his experiences with studying the human microbiome, and George Weinstock gave a very rosy picture of the use of 454 sequencing and other next-generation sequencing technologies (Solexa and AB SOLiD technologies)for de novo microbial genome sequencing. I do not share his enthusiasm on this, especially when it comes to apply these technologies to metagenomics. Overall, it was a great session, too bad it was taking place on Thursday night, the attendance was somewhat low, as lots of people have already left Toronto.


The Human Microbiome Project at ASM

The ASM general meeting will take place in Toronto, May 21-25. George Weinstock from Baylor University in Texas is organizing a Satellite Symposium on the Human Microbiome project. David Relman and Jo Handelsman will talk. I think that the most interesting will be the Q&A session that will follow their presentations.
Jane Peterson from NHGRI will present a report from the NIH Roadmap workshop on the Human Microbiome project. I think it should be a very exciting evening. The symposium will be held at the Toronto Convention Center, on May 24 from 6:30 to 9:00PM. I'll be there!