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Discover the Real Chemistry of Life with Microbiome Mining

By Ross Youngs

What’s on the horizon?

People have always been curious about the world's next significant technological opportunity. Indeed, curiosity about the unknown has been the cornerstone of society’s greatest advancements. Albert Einstein knew this when he said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.”

What will be the next mystery advancement of our time? Will it come via new mobile application? Or perhaps with a new hardware product or with a clean energy breakthrough?

Many organizations are pursuing such breakthroughs. What is virtually at ground zero today may have a tremendous impact on humanity, as well as create new markets or massive growth.

And there’s more. There’s a secret out there and it’s emerging now, thanks to the excitement among researchers at nearly all major academic institutions and the pharma, agrochemical and biotech industries.

Microbiome mining is next

I suggest that you also follow what’s currently trending with Microbiome research. Advancements in the field are accelerating and creating so many opportunities with world-changing new products, technologies, knowledge and information (actionable data).

“The real chemistry of life has remained hidden. Everything is about to change.”

The hidden chemistry of life has been made and retained in microorganisms. Microbes outweigh all other life on earth, including plants, fish, insects, birds, and mammals combined. They have the shortest of life cycles, a high mutation rate, and have been on the planet for 4.2 billion years involving with and into everything

Microbes in a community, via their chemistry, communicate, defend, attack, repair, disable, and turn on, off, up or down in all of life's situations.

Even more fascinating, microbes are, and have always been, the chemical researchers and factories of life. Most hidden chemical secrets are traceable to microbes, due to horizontal and vertical gene transfer, mutations and evolution. And we only know a smidgen of their secrets!

What we know

Humans know very little about microbes. Our knowledge of microorganisms and microbiome are the proverbial drop of water in an ocean. However, we do know, that:

  • In or on a human, microbes outnumber human cells 40 trillion to 30 trillion cells.
  • Additionally, microbe species on or in a human outnumber the genes 7,000,000 to the 23,000 human genes.

Microbes dominate us and everything else on the planet. We know only a tiny fraction of what the genes of chemistry do in powering biology. In the marine and fresh aquatic environments alone there are more than 100,000,000 genes, and this number possibly could be higher by an additional order of magnitude.

The "Big Three" microbiome knowledge resources

Up to now, all the knowledge about microbes and microbiome comes from three primary sources:

  • Culturing the small percentage (~1%) of microbes that can grow in culture to gain more quantity so an in-depth analysis can occur on the single microbe species.
    • Culturing impacts the ability of the microbe to make chemistry it would make in a community (no mechanism to turn on metabolic pathways when grown in isolation).
  • Chemical analysis: Known molecules that are in a discernible concentration such as small molecules-metabolomics, proteins-proteomics, fats-lipidomics, and carbohydrates.
    • Saccharides are possibly identifiable if the quantity of a given compound measurable and rarely determined if unknown.
  • DNA / Genomics - metabolic pathways and gene clusters understanding

Why is everything about to change?

An individual's microbiome isn’t comparable to anything else’s (not even amongst humans) and it certainly can't be studied at any depth via chemical analysis.

Understanding where to look, and how to look, is commonly prejudiced by limitations in technology and understanding. The new ability to recover active microbiomes at quantity, and quality, along with the relevance of aquatic microbiomes to human microbiomes, is creating massive opportunities to explore the unknown.

Additional information about the microbiome

Paper presentation at https://pubs.acs.org/doi/suppl/10.1021/acs.jnatprod.8b00736/suppl_file/np8b00736_liveslides.mp4

See American Chemical Society's Editors’ Choice Awarded peer-reviewed paper: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/acs.jnatprod.8b00736

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