NIDCR launches unique initiative on oral biofilm

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, part of the National Institutes of Health, has begun supporting an innovative, three-year study to compile the first full catalogue of genes found in oral biofilms, the sticky bacteria-laden films that form on our teeth and gums.

The study, which will yield many tens of thousands of genes exceeding the number identified in the landmark Human Genome Project - will also attempt to detect unique patterns of gene expression within these bacterial communities that are predictive of periodontal diseases, a leading cause of tooth loss that affects millions of Americans. Once found, these telltale patterns could lead one day to far earlier, more precise, and more effective diagnosis and treatment of these diseases.

The scientists added that all of the biological information will be stored in a searchable online database that is accessible free of charge to researchers worldwide. The database also will be home to an ambitious attempt to sort through the genes with sophisticated computer software and reassemble the genomes, or complete sets of genes, for all of the organisms in the oral biofilms. To the extent this work is successful, large fragments or even full genomes of microbes that scientists previously could not grow or study in the laboratory would now be available for research. "We know that it's going to be tough to sequence the genomes completely or be certain about the origin of every gene,'" said Dr. David Relman, a scientist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Ca. and a co-principal investigator on the project with Drs. Stephen Gill and Karen Nelson of The Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Md.

"But just having the raw data will allow everyone to explore more broadly than ever the physiology of the oral biofilm as a coherent biological system," he added. "It's at this community level where we'll take the next big leap forward scientifically not only i

Contact: Bob Kuska
NIH/National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research

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