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Mapping the Mouth Microbiome

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    Researchers from the Forsyth Institute and the Marine Biological Laboratory used a novel fluorescence imaging technique and DNA sequencing to create a high-resolution map of the bacteria in dental plaque. The scientists say they can now see where the bacteria are in relation to each other and that gaining new understanding of how the bacteria interact will ultimately clarify their role in health and disease.

    Their study, “Biogeography of a human oral microbiome at the micron scale,” is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences epub.

    This new imaging technique can be used to map and study other human microbiomes—such as the gut and the skin. In this study, the research team found that bacteria in the mouth form structures (that they termed “hedgehogs”) in which the organization of the bacteria suggest functional roles within the community.

    “DNA sequencing does a great job of telling us what bacteria exist in the mouth,” said Gary Borisy, Ph.D., the paper’s primary author. “However, it leaves a big gap in our understanding of the microbiome. Without knowing what bacteria are next to each other—who is next to who and who is next to what—how can we possibly understand how they interact? It’s like having an index of place names without a map. Our research provides the map, which will allow us to answer important questions about the relationship between the bacteria and the body, and ultimately help us to understand the effect on our overall health.”

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