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The human body is home to a diverse range of microorganisms, estimated to outnumber human cells in a healthy adult by ten fold. The importance of characterizing human microbiota for understanding health and disease is highlighted by the recent launch of the Human Microbiome Project by the National Institutes of Health. This report describes the investigation of healthy human skin for microbiota diversity and establishes the basis for determining a core microbiome.

The Human Microbiome Project aims to characterize the microbial communities of several regions of the body, including skin, where determining the core microbiome is essential to understanding and developing new treatments for skin conditions and diseases such as acne and atopic dermatitis (eczema).

In this study, researchers led by Dr. Julie Segre of the National Human Genome Research Institute have generated a diversity profile of human skin microbiota by sequencing 16S rRNA, a component of the prokaryotic ribosome, isolated from a specific region of skin. “We focused this study on the inner elbow to inform future clinical studies of the extremely common inflammatory skin disorder atopic dermatitis, which affects this area of the skin and is associated with Staphylococcus infections,” explains Segre.

In investigating the intricacies of the body’s biological rhythms, scientists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) have discovered the existence of a “food-related clock” which can supercede the “light-based” master clock that serves as the body’s primary timekeeper.

The findings, which appear in the May 23 issue of Science, help explain how animals adapt their circadian rhythms in order to avoid starvation, and suggest that by adjusting eating schedules, humans too can better cope with changes in time zones and nighttime schedules that leave them feeling groggy and jet-lagged.

“For a small mammal, finding food on a daily basis is a critical mission,” explains the study’s senior author Clifford Saper, MD, PhD, Chairman of the Department of Neurology at BIDMC and James Jackson Putnam Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School. “Even a few days of starvation is a common threat in natural environments and may result in the animal’s death.”

It isn't just people. Marine bacteria also organize into professions or lifestyle groups that partition many resources rather than competing for them. Microbes with one lifestyle, such as free-floating cells, flourish in proximity with closely related microbes that may spend life attached to zooplankton or algae.

This new information about microbial groups and the methodology behind it could change the way scientists approach the classification of microbes by making it possible to determine on a large scale, relatively speaking, the genetic basis for ecological niches. Microbes drive almost all chemical reactions in the ocean; it’s important to identify the specific professions held by different groups.

“This is the first method to accurately differentiate the ecological niche or profession among large groups of microbes in the ocean,” said Professor Martin Polz, a microbiologist in MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He and colleague Professor Eric Alm, a computational biologist, published a paper describing their research in the May 23 issue of Science.


Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the most frequent cause of dementia, is a form of amyloidosis. It has been known for a century that dementia, brain atrophy and amyloidosis can be caused by chronic bacterial infections, namely by Treponema pallidum in the atrophic form of general paresis in syphilis. Bacteria and viruses are powerful stimulators of inflammation. It was suggested by Alois Alzheimer and his colleagues a century ago that microorganisms may be contributors in the generation of senile plaques in AD.

A number of chronic diseases are in fact caused by one or more infectious agents - stomach ulcers are caused by Helicobacter pylori while chronic lung disease in newborns and chronic asthma in adults are both caused by Mycoplasmas and Chlamydia pneumonia and some other pathogens have been associated with atherosclerosis.

The realization that pathogens can produce slowly progressive chronic diseases has opened new lines of research into Alzheimer’s disease.

The government in the UK is proposing to change their NHS in response to complaints about waste, delays in treatment and quality concerns.

The new idea is to create 'polyclinics' - general practitioners and specialists in one location. Will it lead to better care or just more cost? The public is against it. Recent data from 1562 patients across 24 Primary Care trusts suggests that only 1 in 10 patients favor the polyclinic model over their current practice.

Michael Dixon, Chair of the NHS Alliance and Stewart Kay, Chair of the Londonwide Local Medical Committees (LMC’s), debated the issue on BMJ.com today - here and here.

An international team of scientists surveying the waters of the continental shelf off the West Coast of North America has discovered for the first time high levels of acidified ocean water within 20 miles of the shoreline, raising concern for marine ecosystems from Canada to Mexico.

Researchers aboard the Wecoma, an Oregon State University research vessel, also discovered that this corrosive, acidified water that is being “upwelled” seasonally from the deeper ocean is probably 50 years old, suggesting that future ocean acidification levels will increase since atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide have increased rapidly over the past half century.

“When the upwelled water was last at the surface, it was exposed to an atmosphere with much lower CO2 (carbon dioxide) levels than today’s,” pointed out Burke Hales, an associate professor in the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University and an author on the Science study. “The water that will upwell off the coast in future years already is making its undersea trek toward us, with ever-increasing levels of carbon dioxide and acidity.