Tuesday, May 12, 2015

matchmaking is the killer-application for these microbiome fingerprints...,

TheScientist | People harbor distinctive sets of microbes, the genetic signatures of which can be used to identify individuals participating in the Human Microbiome Project, according to work published today (May 11) in PNAS

“Each of us personally has a specific set of bugs that are an extension of us, just the same way that our own genome is a part of what defines us,” said coauthor Curtis Huttenhower, a biostatistician at the Harvard School of Public Health.

The study suggests that microbiome sequencing may someday have utility in criminal investigations, for example, but it also raises questions about how microbiome sequence data should best be handled to protect the privacy of study participants.

Researchers previously showed that they could differentiate between small groups of individuals who had touched computer keyboards or mice by matching their skin microbiota to the microbes left on the computer equipment. A team led by Jack Gilbert, a microbiologist at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, recently showed that families leave their unique microbial signatures in the rooms of their houses. The new work is “interesting confirmation that we have unique microbial strain-level associations with our body,” said Gilbert, who was not involved in the research.

Huttenhower and his colleagues developed an algorithm to identify microbiome signatures based on both 16S ribosomal RNA sequences and whole metagenome shotgun sequencing. They assessed the abundance of microbial taxons and also of specific microbial genes and other stretches of DNA.

The researchers sought to identify the minimum set of microbiome features that would be necessary to uniquely identify a person, drawing from the field of data transmission. “The coding problem is actually very similar to what’s used to transmit information on the Internet or over a cellphone,” Huttenhower explained. “You want to represent [the information] using a code that’s short—so you don’t use up a bunch of bandwidth—but robust, so that small errors don’t change your message.”


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