Fungal and foodborne disease microbial genomes sequenced

24 May 2013

US researchers have sequenced the DNA of the human fungal skin microbiome, published in Nature.
The skin microbiome refers to the collective genomes of all the fungi, bacteria and viruses that inhabit the human skin. Most of these are normal (commensal) colonisers that cause no harm, but pathogenic microbes can of course cause disease. Fungal skin infections of otherwise healthy adults are generally fairly mild, but a scarcity of really effective antifungal agents can make them hard to eradicate, and in people with compromised immune systems such infections can become problematic. Diagnosis can also be difficult since fungi do not grow well in laboratory conditions.
The new fungal skin microbiome (the bacterial microbiome has already been characterised) is based on species taken from ten healthy adult individuals. It showed that a single species of fungus dominates the head and body; fungi are (in contrast to bacteria) rare on the hands, but there is considerable diversity of fungal species colonising the feet.
Researcher Dr Heidi Kong commented: "By gaining a more complete awareness of the fungal and bacterial ecosystems, we can better address associated skin diseases, including skin conditions which can be related to cancer treatments".
Meanwhile, the 100K Foodborne Pathogen Genome Project based at the University of California, Davis, has announced the genome sequences of the first ten infectious food-borne microbes, including Salmonella and Listeria.
The project aims to create a free reference database of genomes to help scientists and public health professionals identify and track outbreaks of food-borne diseases, as well as developing new interventions against them. The project will last for five years, with sequence data from another 1,500 infectious pathogens expected to be released later this year.

Comment: The impact of next-generation sequencing technologies on human pathogen research and control, is set to be highly significant. Whilst the human genome commands the most public attention, the much smaller (but very numerous) microbial genomes offer vital information and new opportunities for improved diagnosis, treatment and surveillance measures. 

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