The Research Triangle Park

RTP180: Recapping Microbiomes

By Jan 25, 2017

Microbiome fans snagged every single ticket, showed up in record numbers, and drank all of the beer. What a way to start the RTP180 lineup in 2017! If you missed the event, be sure to watch the archived live stream* HERE.

*Each RTP180 is live streamed, so if you are out of town, didn’t get a ticket in time, or simply can’t make it, you can watch the program from the comfort of your own home. Of course, you have to supply your own beer.

Julie Horvath | NC Museum of Natural Sciences, NC Central University

Julie Horvath was first up and was charged with the task of schooling us on what exactly are microbiomes. Representing the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, Julie taught us that (to the best of my paraphrasing abilities) microbes are tiny microscopic organism that live on your body.

FUN FACT – there are more microbes on your hand than people who live in the city of Raleigh. Holy cow!

All of these microbes need to live somewhere, which is where microbiomes come into play. Your Microbiome is the ecosystem of all the microbes that live on you. You can look at the human body and know that your hand has a microbiome, your mouth, your feet, etc.

After Julie schooled us on microbes and microbiomes, she launched into her 180 talk titled, “Do you smell like a gorilla?”

Your microbes are what produce your distinct smell. As Julie explains, you didn’t fall in love with the way your spouse smells, but the way his/her microbes smell.

Try explaining that one in a valentine’s day card:
“Roses are red, violets are blue, I love the way your microbes smell on you.”

We study microbes by taking a swab and collecting microbes from the armpits of primates and humans. The results, humans are boring. Not much going on in the way of diversity of microbes, which in the microbiome world isn’t very good. We want variations and diversity in our microbiomes.

Speaking of armpits, the reason we don’t have a lot of microbes is due to the fact that humans wear deodorant to help reduce sweat and kill microbes that produce odors.

Julie wrapped up her talk by asking for volunteers with dry ear wax. Is this you? Well then, you need to watch Julie’s talk to find out how you can take part in her next experiment.

Andrea AzcaratePeril | University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Andrea, who was excited to be sharing her passion and theory with us, started off by showing us a graph of the amount of infectious and chronic diseases over time. She explained that we’ve had a decrease in diseases caused by bacteria but an increase in chronic diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

What is happening here?

We live in a world where we use hand sanitizers, antibacterial soap, and antibiotics. There is something that we are doing that is not right. Over time, according to Andrea, these actions combined with the way we eat (processed and clean foods) are not feeding our microbes with the right bacteria to keep a healthy immune system. This causes us to have allergies, eczema, and other chronic illnesses. Basically, we should be eating more dirty stuff!

To watch Andrea fully explain this concept, check out her complete talk on the archived live stream HERE. (she starts at 19:30)

Dr. Lawrence David | Duke University

While showing us an image of his microbiome (and bragging about how pretty it looks) Dr. Lawrence explains that he was intrigued by the peaks in his graph and wondered if he could control the peaks.

His first order of business was to study the impact of food consumption on the microbiome. It turns out, that even after one day of eating certain foods, our microbiomes begin to react to the change. Once Dr. Lawrence understood this, he began to wonder instead of having big impacts on microbiomes could we specifically target different reactions and impacts.

Alongside his team at Duke, Dr. Lawrence studies targeted impacts by testing reactions through an artificial (homemade) gut complete with a commercial grade snorkel to rid the foul odor.

To hear about the results from this contraption along with why his son ate a fried frog, watch his compete talk on RTP’s live stream channel. (29:30)

Kirk Beebe | Metabolon, Inc.

As Kirk took the stage, he made sure we all knew that although the views he expressed during RTP180 were in fact his own, they overlap a lot with his current employer, Metabolon.

Metabolon, as a company, looks at metabolites (most recognizable are glucose and cholesterol but there are 100s of other metabolites that circulate in our systems) which help us understand the genetic code in the context of health and the phenotypic state.

So if I put my science and anatomy hat on here and try to recap – Metabolon studies metabolites (molecules) that are a part of our metabolism, which play a role in our overall health. Some people have high metabolism while others have low and this is all controlled by these various molecules called metabolites.
I can assure you, these views do not overlap with my employer (or Metabolon’s for that matter).

Nathan Cude | Novozymes

Nathan ended our lineup by switching gears to discuss the soil microbiome rather than the human microbiome. Everything around us has a microbiome, especially soil and his employer (Novozymes) has the ambitious goal to feed the whole world using soils.

The complexity of soil has been something we have ignored for quite some time. As scientists dig (pun intended) even deeper, they find that the soil is even more complex than originally thought. In a tablespoon of soil there are about 50 billion microorganisms, of which there are 30,000 different species. To put this number into perspective there are only about 5,500 mammal species on the entire planet. Talk about complexity!

By using next generation sequencing techniques, we scientists were able to figure out what these microorganism and microbiomes are doing in the soil. They learned that they are colonizing plants. Just as we have a microbiome in our gut to help us digest food, plants have a microbiome in their root to help grow the plant.

There are three ways in which these microbiomes help to grow plants, but to learn about these three ways, you have to watch Nathan’s presentation HERE. (49:40)

If you wanted a strong start to the 2017 RTP180, this is how to do it! I encourage you to watch the entire live stream as you will get a much better idea of microbiomes straight from the presentations versus me trying to recap such a complex topic. Although, I did graduate 6th in the business school and I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night, I’m by no means a microbiome expert – yet!

Join us next month as we explore Virtual Reality on February 16 – it’s a topic that is expected to be out of the world. Badoom ching.