Cataloging the human microbiome—the complete collection of bacteria, fungi, archaea, protists, and viruses that live in and on our bodies—is an enormous task. Most estimates put the number of organisms who call us home on par with the number of our own cells. Imagine trying to figure out how the billions of critters influence each other and, ultimately, impact our health. Elhanan Borenstein, a computer scientist-cum-genomicist at the University of Washington, and his team are not only tackling this difficult challenge, they are also trying to obtain a systems-level understanding of the collective effect of all of the genes, proteins, and metabolites produced by the numerous species within the microbiome.
In this video, Borenstein describes the models of the microbiome he and his team create, and how they can be used to predict impacts on the microbiome resulting from a number of conditions, including dietary changes. His goal is to use these models to design synthetic microbiomes composed of certain species at certain abundances that can be transferred to a person to confer specific health benefits.
Dr. Borenstein’s work is funded in part by the NIH under grant 5R01GM124312.