Skip to main content

The hunt for unknown microbes

Many people today display infection-like symptoms that are puzzling doctors, as current methods are unable to find the viruses and bacteria causing them. Microbes form part of the human microflora, and can "trigger" gastro-intestinal problems, skin diseases, autoimmune conditions or cancer. Researchers at Karolinska Institutet and Uppsala University are now turning to modern DNA techniques to help them explore this still unknown part of the human microflora.

Scientists are learning more and more about how the human microflora - the viruses and bacteria that we all bear on and in our bodies - benefits the health. In some cases, however, it causes disease and it is becoming increasingly clear that we are dealing with more than typical infection diseases. Just which microbes are involved and what it is that causes them sometimes to be pathogenic is unknown.

To date, bacteria and viruses have been primarily identified through cultivation, which for the latter in particular is a very difficult and unpredictible technique. Modern genome techniques now make it possible to find pathogenic microbes in patient samples with large accuracy.

Large-scale DNA sequencing

Researchers at Karolinska Institutet and Uppsala University will therefore be working together on a major microbiome study in which they intend to use large-scale DNA sequencing to identify the microorganisms in selected samples. Some of the analyses will be done at the Science for Life Laboratory.

"Well be combining our knowledge of advanced genome techniques focusing on viruses and bacteria, for which we are pioneers in the field, using the excellent patient material available in Sweden," says Professor Björn Andersson from Karolinska Institutet, coordinator of the project.

There is considerable interest in micobiomics amongst the global scientific community, but the focus is mainly on more general mappings of the natural microflora.

"Well be concentrating on a spectrum of specific diseases and so will be analysing samples from selected patient groups," he says. "We are, for instance, interested in skin diseases, diarrhoea, diseases of the airways and tumours."

Give rise to new fields of research

Every new microbe discovered gives rise to a completely new field of research and new research constellations.

"Experience tells us that each new virus identified can soon give rise to applications such as diagnostic tools and, in the long run, drugs and/or vaccines."