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Forsyth Team collaborates with Human Microbiome Project

Project defines normal bacteria makeup of the body

Forsyth Institute

Forsyth scientists have made a significant contribution to the Human Microbiome Project (HMP), an initiative which has defined the normal bacterial makeup of the human body for the first time in history. As leading experts in oral and craniofacial microbiology, the Forsyth team provided three of the four body site experts for the mouth and oralpharyngeal surfaces.

The Forsyth Scientists from the Department of Molecular Genetics are Floyd Dewhirst, DDS., Ph.D., Senior Member of Staff; Katherine P. Lemon, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Member of Staff; and Jacques Izard, Ph.D., Assistant Member of Staff. They provided key advice on the biology of the oral cavity, expert analysis of the complex microbiome, and advice on the methodology.

In a series of coordinated scientific reports to be published on June 14, 2012, in Nature and several journals in the Public Library of Science (PLoS), some 200 members of the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) Consortium from nearly 80 multidisciplinary research institutions report on five years of research. The HMP, launched in 2007, received $153 million from the NIH Common Fund, a trans-NIH initiative that finances high-impact, large-scale research. Over 240 adults were carefully screened and phenotyped before sampling one to three times at 15 (male) or 18 (female) body sites using a common sampling protocol.

Microbes inhabit just about everywhere in the human body, inside the mouth, living on the skin, in the gut, up the nose, etc. Most microorganisms live in harmony with their human hosts and are essential for humans to thrive, although a few sometimes cause illness. Studying human-bacteria interactions could lead to new ways to monitor human health status and to new methods for preventing or treating oral and systemic human diseases. The Forsyth efforts are supported by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, NIH.

"Like 15th century explorers describing the outline of a new continent, HMP researchers employed a new technological strategy to comprehensively define, for the first time, the normal microbial makeup of the human body," said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. "HMP created a remarkable reference database by using genome sequencing techniques to directly detect microbes in healthy volunteers. This lays the foundation for accelerating infectious disease research previously impossible without this community resource."

HMP researchers also reported that this plethora of microbes contribute more genes responsible for human survival than humans themselves. Where the human genome contains some 22,000 protein-coding genes that carry out metabolic activities, researchers estimate that the microbiome contributes some 8 million unique protein-coding genes or 360-times more bacterial genes than human genes.

After NIH launched HMP in December 2007, the International Human Microbiome Consortium (IHMC) formed in 2008 to represent funding organizations (including NIH) and scientists from around the world interested in studying the human microbiome. The consortium has coordinated research to avoid duplication of effort and insure rapid release of molecular and clinical data sets. It also has developed common data quality standards and tools to share research results.


As with other large-scale collaborative efforts, NIH ensured that the research community could freely access HMP data through public databases, such as the National Center for Biotechnology Information, part of the National Library of Medicine, and at the HMP Data Analysis and Coordinating Center. More information about HMP can be found at An illustration showing the body sites that were sampled as part of the Human Microbiome Project healthy cohort study is available at:

About Forsyth

The Forsyth Institute is the world's leading independent organization dedicated to scientific research and education in oral health and related biomedical sciences. Established in 1910, Forsyth's goal is to lead the discovery, communication and application of breakthroughs in oral health and disease prevention that will significantly improve the health and well-being of the nation and the world. For more information about Forsyth, visit its website at

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