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Why study the oral microbiome? A conversation with Dr. Xuesong He

Forsyth’s annual Scientific Symposium, Oral Microbiome—Beyond Bacteria, aims to promote better understanding of the oral microbiome from a holistic perspective.

The oral microbiome is composed of diverse conventional bacterial species, fungal and viral (bacteriophage) components, as well as recently identified nano-sized parasitic Candidate Phyla Radiation (CPR) organisms(1-3). Effective management of oral microbiome-related diseases calls for a more comprehensive understanding of the impact of the oral microbiota on host health and disease, which requires a holistic view of intra- and cross-kingdom interactions among members of the oral microbiome, as well as microbial-host interaction.

Dr. Xuesong He, Associate Member of Staff at Forsyth and organizer of the Symposium, provides more detail about the event and what attendees can expect.

1. Why did you choose the topic Oral Microbiome—Beyond Bacteria? 

For the longest time, researchers only focused on one specific type of  bacteria to try and understand what they do and how they impact a host. But now we’re getting to learn more about the oral microbiome. In the oral cavity, we actually have hundreds of different species of bacteria living with us every day. They are there even after we brush our teeth, and not all of the bacteria are bad. That’s where promoting an understanding of the whole ecological aspect of this multispecies community becomes important. 

There is also a reason why the topic is called “Beyond Bacteria.” For the longest time when talking about the oral microbiome, people only focused on bacteria. This is understandable because previous knowledge only included what specific bacteria do. But new research has shown that the oral cavity contains a variety of microbes in addition to bacteria. On top of that, we now know about a different type of bacteria that are smaller than traditional bacteria and live in symbiotic relationships with other bacteria.

Basically, we are trying to introduce the idea of studying the whole oral microbiome in a large context. That’s what drives us to host this symposium.

2. How did you select the speakers you invited? 

We invited experts in different areas within the oral microbiome field to share their knowledge. If you want to have a deeper discussion among different groups of people, then you need to invite investigators who have done a lot of work in their field. We also want to promote communication between researchers with varying degrees of experience. Some of the speakers we invited are well established and have been working in their field for 20-30 years. However, we also invited junior faculty who just entered their field of research so that they can get the opportunity to collaborate with experts.

Finally, we tried to include speakers from underrepresented groups in research. Many trainees from minority groups who are still in graduate school or completing their post-doctorate may wonder whether there is a space for them in biomedical research. By showing that there are established researchers who come from the same background as them, we hope to encourage these trainees to get involved as well.

3. What are the goals of the conference? What can people expect to learn?

The ultimate goal for us is to understand from an ecological perspective why these microbe communities exist, how they develop, and how they impact the host. In that sense, you not only need to consider bacteria but also other microbes, as well as the interaction between different microbes. That is why we want to bring experts from different areas, and together we can gain a better understanding of the oral microbiome.

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