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Researchers Establish International Human Microbiome Consortium

Coordinated Global Effort To Investigate
Role of Microbes in Human Health and Disease

Scientists from around the globe, meeting today in Heidelberg, Germany, announced the formation of the International Human Microbiome Consortium (IHMC), an effort that will enable researchers to characterize the relationship of the human microbiome in the maintenance of health and in disease.

The human metagenome is the collective genomes of all microorganisms living in or on the human body. The IHMC will generate a shared data resource from international projects that will be made freely available to the global scientific community. Research organizations from all nations supporting similar research efforts are invited to become participants.

In related news, leaders from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), part of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, signed a letter of intent in September with the European Commission (EC) officially agreeing to combine the data from the NIH Human Microbiome Project and the EC Metagenomics of the Human Intestinal Tract (MetaHIT) project. Both projects, which are already under way, will contribute an initial set of microbial genomes to the IHMC.

Current participants in the IHMC include:

Australia: Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization
Canada: Canadian Institutes of Health Research
China: Meta-GUT project (Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST)) Sino-French collaboration; Human Gut Microbiome and Infections Human Gut Microbiome and Infections
Europe: European Commission
France: Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA)
Ireland: the DAFF/HRB elderly gut metagenomics project (ELDERMET)
Japan: Human Metagenome Consortium Japan (HMGJ)
Korea: Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs
United States: National Institutes of Health
The IHMC will be guided by a steering committee made up of one representative from each country’s research funding agency, as well as a representative from each scientific project. The steering committee is charged with maintaining standards related to quality assurance of data, coordination of microbial strains for complete genome sequencing projects, data access and release and informed consent, in addition to other issues which need the committee’s input.

The IHMC is open for membership from any researchers who agree to the consortium’s principles, which include:

open, free and rapid data release in accordance with donor consent
common quality standards for data
sharing of protocols and informed consent documents
sharing of information about progress of each project
a common publication policy
Trillions of microorganisms live in and on the human body. Scientists have recently begun sequencing the DNA of microbial communities to learn how microbes can help maintain our health or contribute to disease. For instance, research has suggested that fluctuations in the composition of microbial communities contribute to diabetes, asthma, obesity and a variety of digestive disorders.

Each participating research group plans to focus on describing different body sites and diseases, while the US and EC will also contribute to a reference set of completely sequenced microbial genomes.

Data generated by IHMC projects will be made available through the NIH Human Microbiome Project Data Analysis and Coordination Center, led by Owen White, Ph.D., University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore and an equivalent center at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), led by Peer Bork, Ph.D. The data will also be distributed to other public databases, including those supported by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (, part of the National Library of Medicine.

The IHMC chairmanship will rotate annually and the co-chairs for 2009 are Christian Desaintes, Ph.D., from the European Commission and S. Dusko Ehrlich, Ph.D., coordinator of the MetaHIT project.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) –“The Nation's Medical Research Agency” – includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

Geoff Spencer | NIH
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