Insights into Editorial: Why India wants to study human microbiome
India provides a wide range of research with more than 4,500 ethnic groups and presence of two global biodiversity hotspots Himalayas and Western Ghats.
In Human beings, body is full of trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi. They are collectively known as the microbiome.
While some bacteria are associated with disease, others are actually extremely important for your immune system, heart, weight and many other aspects of health.
In human beings, the human immune system is hugely important to our health and wellbeing because it prevents infectious disease taking hold of our bodies. The immune system appears to be a major beneficiary of the body’s microbiome.
Recently, Pune hosted an international conference on microbiome research, a field of study that is still in its infancy in India.
This provided India set to change, with a proposed project that would study and map the human microbiome across the country.
Research on the human microbiome has thrown light on various aspects that
- How different parts of the human body are occupied by characteristic microbial communities, and
- How various factors contribute in shaping the composition of the microbiome, including the genetics, dietary habits, age, geographic location and ethnicity.
These studies laid a strong foundation to decipher the microbiome’s implications on health and a wide range of diseases.
But India lacks is a national microbiome initiative similar to those in other countries. Now, a high-level committee at the Department of Biotechnology has shown a keen interest in the proposed project.
The human body carries diverse communities of microorganisms, which are mainly bacterial. These are referred to as “human microbiome”.
These organisms play a key role in many aspects of host physiology, ranging from metabolism of otherwise complex indigestible carbohydrates and fats to producing essential vitamins, maintaining immune systems and acting as a first line of defense against pathogens.
Scientists have conducted a meta-analysis on gut microbiota of healthy Indian individuals and compared it with that of individuals from other parts of the world.
It shows that the Indian population harbours a distinct gut microbial community, which, calls for an in-depth investigation of the Indian microbiome.
Microbiome Research is useful in the several ways:
It will provide the answers to following questions:
How different parts of the human body are occupied by characteristic microbial communities?
How various factors contribute in shaping the composition of the microbiome, including the genetics, dietary habits, age, geographic location and ethnicity?
Therefore, now a high-level committee at the Department of Biotechnology has shown a keen interest in the proposed project, CSIR. Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), is optimistic that this Rs 150-crore project will get approval soon.
The project will include collection of saliva, stool and skin swabs of 20,000 Indians across various ethnic groups from different geographical regions.
Importance of Microbiome in the Living Body (Human) :
The gut is the site in the body of greatest concentration of microbes composing the human microbiome.
The relationship between the body and its microbiome is symbiotic that is, both parties benefit.
It is known that the microbiome is crucially involved in the digestion of our food and the synthesis of vitamins we absorb. In response, the microbiome is provided with stable growth conditions and nutrients.
The human large intestine is an anaerobic (without oxygen) environment so the microbiome converts food passing through the gut into energy under anaerobic conditions by fermentation reactions.
Short-chain fatty acids are produced by the microbes which serve as an energy source.
Around 10% of our body’s energy is produced by our microbiome fermenting food in the gut this way. In addition, the gut microbiome synthesizes vitamins such as biotin and vitamin K and produces fat-storing hormones.
Recent research suggests the microbiome has an inhibitory effect on the development of cancer of the colon.
The microbiome also acts as a ‘natural’ shield to the gut, and therefore the body, by inhibiting pathogens from attaching to lining of the gut something that must happen for infection to take place.
Therefore, there are a number of different ways in which the gut microbiome can affect key bodily functions and influence your health.
India has a large number of tribal populations largely unaffected by “modern” diet and lifestyle.
The prevalence of lifestyle-related disorders such as obesity and diabetes has been known to be significantly lower compared to the non-tribal (urbanised) populations across the globe.
Hence, scientists say, a study on the tribal population would help improve knowledge of evolution of the mutualism between gut microbiota and the host.
These studies will lay a strong foundation to decipher the microbiome’s implications on health and a wide range of diseases.
A transparent regulatory framework, adapting to recent scientific developments, creates an enabling environment for public and private R&D investments to support better public health and economic outcomes.