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Fast-Paced Microbiome

While the microbiome has been linked to having an influence on all sorts of diseases, the University of California, San Diego's Rob Knight tells NPR's Katherine Harmon Courage that researchers will soon move beyond making those correlations.

One of the challenges of microbiome research, Knight says, is that large numbers of people need to be studied, especially when multiple variables — such as medications and diet — have to be taken into account.  And then it's crunching those numbers and presenting the conclusions to clinicians and patients in a user-friendly way that can be difficult.

Harmon notes that Knight has recently moved to UCSD where he hopes to take advantage of the expertise of nearby biotech companies as well as the resources of the medical school, which Knight says collects some 300,000 biological specimens a month.

"[W]e will be able to add a microbiome dimension to the study of diseases — including diseases where there is no hint yet that the microbiome is involved," he says. "When you consider the number of diseases where, just over the last five years, it went from being crazy to think the microbes were involved to now being crazy to think the microbes aren't involved, it's amazing how rapidly the evidence has been accumulating."