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100 new species of bacteria found in intestines by Sanger Institute and EMBL EBI scientists working on microbiome


By Paul Brackley


More than 100 completely new species of bacteria have been found in healthy people’s intestines by scientists working on the gut microbiome.

Rod-shaped bacteria.
Rod-shaped bacteria.

Researchers from the Wellcome Sanger Institute and EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute, both in Hinxton, and Hudson Institute of Medical Research in Australia, studied faecal samples from 20 people from the UK and Canada.

They successfully grew and DNA sequenced 737 individual bacterial strains. Analysis revealed 273 separate bacterial species, including 173 never previously sequenced and 105 never even isolated before.

Dr Samuel Forster, first author on the paper from the Wellome Sanger Institute and Hudson Institute, said: “This study has led to the creation of the largest and most comprehensive public database of human health-associated intestinal bacteria. The gut microbiome plays a major role in health and disease. This important resource will fundamentally change the way researchers study the microbiome.”

Dr Trevor Lawley, senior author from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said: “This culture collection of individual bacteria will be a game-changer for basic and translational microbiome research.

“By culturing the unculturable, we have created a resource that will make microbiome analysis faster, cheaper and more accurate and will allow further study of their biology and functions.

“Ultimately, this will lead us towards developing new diagnostics and treatments for diseases such as gastrointestinal disorders, infections and immune conditions.”

Dr Lawley is chief scientific officer at Microbiotica, which was spun out of the Sanger Institute using his pioneering work.

Based in the Biodata Innovation Centre on the Wellcome Genome Campus, Microbiotica – winner of Life Sciences Company of the Year at the Cambridge Independent Science and Technology Awards 2018 – is a leading player in microbiome-based therapeutics and biomarkers.

Trevor Lawley, chief scientific officer of Microbiotica
Trevor Lawley, chief scientific officer of Microbiotica

Under a celebrated deal signed last June with Genentech, which could be worth up to $534m in milestone payments plus royalties, Microbiotica will discover, develop and commercialise biomarkers, targets and medicines to benefit patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

It is tackling one of the most significant barriers in microbiome research – the ability to identify precisely a patient’s bacteria and then match it to function.

Microbiotica is developing medicines and biomarkers based on microbiota, and also has programmes in immuno-oncology and Clostridium difficile.

It is also collaborating with researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia to develop a new bacterial therapy to treat ulcerative colitis. It follows pioneering work from Dr Sam Costello that showed faecal microbiota transplantation could induce remission without significant side-effects.

Microbiotica is analysing samples from the University of Adelaide using its platform for culture-based precision metagenomics to create the new therapy, which would reset the gut microbiota.

Trevor Lawley, co-founder and chief scientific officer of Microbiotica, with Mike Romanos, co-founder and chief executive, in the labs at Microbiotica. Picture: Keith Heppell
Trevor Lawley, co-founder and chief scientific officer of Microbiotica, with Mike Romanos, co-founder and chief executive, in the labs at Microbiotica. Picture: Keith Heppell

CEO Mike Romanos says: “The microbiome field of research is a revolution that is leading us to re-evaluate our understanding of human biology, and is leading to completely new kinds of medicines that are being taken forward rapidly by the biotechnology sector.

“The gut bacteria have a central role in maintaining a healthy system and imbalances lead to disease in every part of the body.

“We can foresee medicines comprising live bacteria taken to recreate a healthy microbiome balance.”

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