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Wellcome Trust–funded Project Targets Early Human Microbiome

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The Wellcome Trust has awarded £1.3 million ($2 million) to fund a researcher at the University of East Anglia and the Institute of Food Research who will seek to find out how bacteria that are beneficial to humans help protect against diseases in the early phases of life.

The New Investigator Award to Lindsay Hall, a lecturer at UEA and researcher at IFR, will fund efforts that will lean heavily on high-throughput sequencing tools to find out more about the microbial communities that colonize the human body soon after birth.

Hall will use the five-year grant to study bacteria in the guts of infants and, and in particular will seek to discover how they establish themselves in the gut and how they may be involved in protecting against infections.

"We are planning to use 16S rRNA-based microbiota community analysis, metagenome, and whole genome sequencing to define and characterize early-life microbiota samples," Hall told GenomeWeb Daily News in an e-mail.

She also said that she will be looking in the coming months to hire an investigator with a background in bioinformatics, next-generation sequencing platforms, and large dataset analysis to help conduct these projects.

The earliest parts of human life are a critical period in terms of the microbiome because at birth the human gut is completely bacteria-free, Hall explained, noting that the processes that follow birth and lead to microbial colonization are not fully understood.

Having a better understanding of these processes could lead to treatments for diseases such as bacterial gastroenteritis, she said. This infectious disease is an increasing cause of infant death in the developing world, and the treatment involves antibiotics, but resistance to antibiotics is increasing and antibiotics also may reduce natural defenses against infection.

Under this project, she will look to understand how antibiotics can disrupt these microbial communities, and search for probiotic bacteria

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