Australian Biobank Seeks Donations of Human Microbes

Australia's first comprehensive human microbiome biobank is calling for volunteers to donate samples to support research into the trillions of microorganisms that make up the human microbiome.

  • The human microbiome is associated with inflammatory disorders, metabolic diseases, cancer and more.
  • Majority of microorganisms from the human microbiome have yet to be cultured in the laboratory.
  • Scientists at the Australian Human Microbiome Biobank will culture thousands of microorganisms from the human body for the first time.
  • The Biobank will help researchers around the world discover and develop new microbiome-based health solutions.

Opened today at Brisbane's Translational Research Institute, QUT's The Australian Human Microbiome Biobank (AHMB) is funded by a $3million Medical Research Future Fund National Critical Research Infrastructure grant.

The biobank facility houses a purpose-built, high-throughput cultivation platform that will enable scientists to isolate and genomically characterise the microorganisms that live in and on our bodies.

Internationally recognised microbiologist and AHMB director QUT Professor Gene Tyson leads a team that includes some of Australia's leading scientists who are building this valuable resource to help researchers around the world study the way the human microbiome influences a wide range of disorders.

"The human body is home to diverse communities of bacteria, fungi, viruses and other organisms that are intricately linked to human health." Professor Tyson said.

"These microorganisms influence many functions: they serve as the first line of defence against pathogens, aid in nutrient metabolism, help train and regulate the immune system, and produce thousands of bacterial metabolites that influence signalling pathways throughout the body."

Professor Tyson said research has shown that imbalances in our microbiome have been associated with numerous health problems including inflammatory disorders, metabolic diseases and certain types of cancer.

"The more we learn about this vast and complex ecosystem, the more apparent it becomes that the human microbiome plays a critical role in health and disease," he said.

"However, more than 70 per cent of the thousands of microbial species that live in and on the human body have never been grown in the laboratory. This makes it difficult to study the diverse ways they influence human health and to develop new treatments.

"There are several challenges in microbial cultivation. For example, some less abundant or slow growing species are outcompeted by fast growing microbes, we do not yet understand many of their growth requirements, and there is a lack of methodologies and instruments to culture anaerobic microorganisms, which can be extremely sensitive to oxygen."

The Australian Human Microbiome Biobank builds upon Professor Tyson's previous research into the gut microbiome, where his team have developed new methods to overcome some of the difficulties in microbial cultivation to bring thousands of novel species into culture for the first time.

"We hope to use our new platform to bridge the existing knowledge gaps in human microbiome research, not only to expand scientific learning but to improve patient outcomes and ultimately quality of life."

"The overarching goal of the biobank is to expedite the discovery and development of new microbiome-based treatments for diseases, and to improve wellbeing for everyone," Professor Tyson said.

The Australian Human Microbiome Biobank is seeking donations of gut, oral, skin and vaginal microbial samples to culture and study.

The research team includes clinicians who will lead the collection of samples and help translate new knowledge into clinical practice:

  • Gastroenterologist Professor Gerald Holtmann who has a longstanding interest in the gut microbiome.
  • World-leading burns specialist Professor Fiona Wood who has a research interest in the microbiome of healthy skin and burn wounds.
  • Medical microbiologist and infectious diseases clinician Professor Ben Howden who has expertise in oral/nasal microbiology.
  • Associate Professor Asha Bowen who has extensive expertise in skin microbiome and infectious diseases.
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