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Breakthrough tools for understanding the microbiology of the mouth

Forsyth researchers Floyd E. Dewhirst, DDS, PhD, and Bruce J. Paster, PhD, have pioneered not only the identification of the totality of the oral microbial universe, but the development of powerful tools so scientists can share information about them. These innovations are significant achievements with broad application to oral health, general medicine, biomedical science, public health and industry.

By employing molecular techniques based on 16S rRNA sequence analysis, the Paster and Dewhirst research team has identified essentially all of the oral bacterial species that are found in the human mouth. Based on this work, in early 2008 Forsyth launched two key tools for the use of the global biomedical community.

Human Oral Microbe Identification Microarray (HOMIM)

This one-of-a-kind service enables academic and industrial researchers around the world to investigate oral microbial ecology. Forsyth analyzes DNA samples researchers submit using HOMIM, which allows for the rapid, simultaneous detection of about 300 of the most prevalent oral bacterial species, including many that cannot be cultured. The results permit scientists to compare the associations of particular species with health and disease, to monitor treatment effects and to conduct microbial perturbation studies. Forsyth plans to expand to additional microarrays for other areas of the body, such as the intestinal tract. “This rapid identification method will help us better understand oral health and disease, and connections to systemic health,” Dr. Paster observes. “We’re proud to have brought it from the bench to actual application.”

Human Oral Microbe Database

The most complete resource ever developed on the microbiology of the mouth, the Human Oral Microbe Database provides descriptions of and links to further information and published literature regarding the nearly 600 oral microbes. It circumvents the scientific prohibition against naming species that cannot be grown in culture by supplying provisional and consistent names based on their molecular “fingerprints.” The database project was spearheaded by Dr. Tsute Chen from Forsyth, as well as scientists from King’s College, London with support from the National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR). In part because of the success of the NIDCR program in defining oral bacteria, the National Institutes of Health has initiated the Human Microbiome Project to further the understanding of microbes that live on and in people, and how they contribute to health and disease. As Dr. Dewhirst notes, “The oral cavity was the first body site investigated under the Human Microbiome Project, and the Human Oral Microbe Database can serve as a model for other body areas. With human cells outnumbered 10 to 1 by microbes that live with them, we need to understand how these microbes interact with us, and use this knowledge to improve human health.

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