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科学美国人60秒: 利用计算机技术研究肠道微生物

所属教程:科学美国人60秒健康系列 更新:01-09
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Better Gut Microbiome Census through Computing

利用计算机技术研究肠道微生物

In recent years scientists have shown that the microbes that live in our guts play crucial roles in our lives. They’re involved in digestion, obesity, even mood. And a few can cause serious illness. So it would be a good idea to know the identities of the bacteria inside us. And yet, that info has been incomplete.

最近几年科学家表明,我们肠道内的微生物在生活中扮演着重要的角色。这些微生物与我们的消化、肥胖甚至情绪有关。有些微生物可以引发严重的疾病。所以,了解我们体内微生物的身份是个不错的主意。但是,关于微生物的信息还上不完整。

But now researchers have developed a technique to get a better census of the gut microbiome. And using the new system, the researchers have found that our microorganisms are even more diverse than we knew. The report is in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

但是,现在研究人员研发了一种普查肠道微生物的技术。研究人员利用这项新的体系发现,微生物的种类多样化程度超出我们认知。该报告发表在《自然生物技术》杂志上。

Currently, researchers analyze microbial diversity by taking a sample they hope includes the different kinds of bacteria in the gut. They then try to identify the different species by looking at their genomes. But they can only do that second-hand, by trying to piece together many short snippets of DNA—which can be confusing and inadequate when dealing with numerous different kinds of bacteria.

目前,研究人员通过采取样本分析微生物的多样性,他们希望这些样本能够囊括肠道内不同的细菌种类。之后,研究人员试图通过查看细菌的基因组识别这些不同的物种。但是,他们只能将许多短的DNA片段拼合——由于细菌种类繁多,这项工作变得很混乱。

So geneticists at Stanford University got together with computer scientists to come up with a new approach. They used sophisticated computational techniques that enabled them to analyze much longer stretches of DNA—which included many genes that would be missed with the older system. For example, when they tested the gut microbiome from a healthy human male the old way, they found 127 different species. The new method applied to the same sample revealed the presence of an additional 51 species.

所以,斯坦福大学的遗传学家和计算机科学家想出了一个新方法。他们利用先进的计算机技术来分析较长的DNA片段——这些DNA片段中包括了以前方法测试不到的基因。例如,研究人员利用旧方法从健康男性体内检测肠道,他们发现了127种不同的微生物物种。而新的测试方法又发现了其他51种微生物。

The new approach could be particularly important for identifying and understanding disease-causing microbes. "When you assemble the whole genome, you have a really good idea of what pathogenic genes are present.” Michael Snyder, one of the study researchers. “So we think this technology is going to be extremely powerful for understanding the genetic basis of pathogenesis.”

新的方法对于识别和理解微生物引发的疾病特别重要。“在组装所有的基因组时,你会知道存在何种治病基因。”研究人员米迦勒·斯奈德说到。“所以,我们认为,这项技术在了解发病的遗传基础方面具有至关重要的作用。”

For example, we all harbor benign strains of E. coli bacteria. But other strains can be toxic or even deadly—and they might be hard to investigate because they don’t grow easily in the lab. The new approach could look directly at the toxic strain’s genes to see how they functions. “And of course this will be really powerful then for treating humans in terms of what pathogenic genes might be present in the microorganisms they harbor.”

例如,我们体内都存在良性的大肠杆菌菌种。但是其他的一些菌种可能是有毒的,甚至是致命的——这些菌种很难发现,因为它们不易在实验室培植。但新的方法可以直接观看这些有毒的基因是如何作用的。“因此这种方法在人体的微生物中存在何种治病基因,而治疗人类疾病作用强大。”

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