Once sequenced, the genes can be compared to those already listed in huge computer databases to determine if they are unique or already known. Investigators will also determine whether the proteins encoded by the genes might be produced under varying conditions of health and disease, providing further insight into the possible role of the gene in the disease process.
Importantly, researchers will have an opportunity to study the function and structure of important predicted proteins derived from these organisms. They will do so by inserting the genes that encode these proteins into common laboratory bacteria and allowing them to produce large quantities of the proteins. This means proteins from previously unknown microbes will now be identified and characterized.
With recent advances in processing and sequencing large amounts of genetic information, metagenomics has introduced a scale of data collection rarely, if ever, seen in biology. As published this year, Venter et al. collected samples of the Sargasso Sea in the central North Atlantic Ocean and, using a metagenomics approach, sequenced most of the bacteria present, including many which could not be grown in the laboratory. The result: over 1.6 billion base pairs, or units, of DNA and nearly 70,000 new genes.
Gill noted that the oral metagenomics project marks the first time that this approach has been undertaken for biomedical research on humans. "The mouth is just so much more readily accessible than other parts of the b
Contact: Bob Kuska
NIH/National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research