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Forsyth researcher awarded RO1 grant to investigate the ultrasmall bacteria that keep other bacteria in check

Our body is teeming with bacteria—in our gut, on our skin, and in every corner of our mouths. What prevents these microbes from getting out of control and causing diseases? Our immune system plays a role, but it’s not acting alone. In recent research, Forsyth Institute scientists in the Bor Lab and collaborators found that a group of bacteria called Saccharibacteria may protect humans against oral pathogens, upending the previously held belief that these microbes are disease-causing.

This discovery opened up a whole new area of exploration in the field of microbiology, and the Bor Lab was granted a 5-year Research Project Grant (R01) from the National Institutes of Health to study these microbes further.

The communities of bacteria that live on and within humans impact our health in ways scientists are just beginning to understand. But even more mysterious are the bacteria that grow on other bacteria. These ultrasmall microbes, known as Saccharibacteria or TM7, are associated with inflammation, suggesting they are somehow linked to our body’s immune response. The new grant will allow Dr. Batbileg Bor, Assistant Member of Staff at The Forsyth Institute and Director of the Bor Lab, to investigate how Saccharibacteria interact with the innate and adaptive immune system and impact the larger microbial community of their environment, using periodontal disease as a model system.

“Why are TM7 suppressing inflammation? What mechanisms do they use? Is it only through the host bacteria, or are they also speaking directly to the immune system? If we’re able to understand these questions at the fundamental molecular level, the possible applications and therapeutic uses of these microbes are boundless,” Bor says.

For example, scientists currently use a technique called phage therapy to program viruses to target specific bacteria. “TM7 could have a similar function—they can kill or suppress the inflammatory response of other bacteria,” Bor says.

The human oral microbiome is made up of more than 600 microbial species that function as a single unit, promoting health or disease. TM7 impact that unit at the most fundamental level because they attach to and grow on other bacteria, Bor says.

“Currently, we know nothing about how TM7 influence the whole community function,” Bor says. “That will be really interesting to test.”

The Bor Lab opened its doors only two years ago but has already made significant contributions to our understanding of these ultrasmall bacteria. “With this first major NIH grant, we are extremely excited to begin answering some of these questions,” Bor says. 

Learn more about the Bor Lab.

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