All higher organisms live in intimate association with microbes. The interactions are primarily positive or neutral, with microbes imparting protection from pathogens or providing nutrients to the hosts, which in turn provide favourable niches for residing biofilms. However, microbes are also the causative agents of disease in a host and, as biofilms, are responsible for acute and chronic infections.
SCELSE’s Host Microbiome Interactions programme involves a range of biofilm hosts, from insect to human, together with a diverse scope of interactions, and unravels the complex associations between the microorganisms and their hosts.
The microbial communities associated with insect hosts are investigated with respect to both biological and mechanical vectors by dissecting the microbiomes of mosquitos and flies. As insects are major agents of infectious diseases, they often inhabit densely populated areas where their propagation is increased. Although national vector control agencies focus on the surveillance of biological vectors, the mechanical vectors themselves are largely understudied.
SCELSE’s human-associated microbiome studies include biofilms connected with cardiovascular disease, organs such as the skin, the eye and gastro-intestinal tract, as well as microbial biofilm communities implicated in cancer.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide and atherosclerosis is a chronic inflammatory disease. Increasing evidence indicates that infections and chronic inflammatory diseases are linked with increased risk of atherosclerosis. Similarly, bacteria have been implicated in cancer progression and although the concept is in its infancy, investigating the potential role of biofilms in tumorigenesis may have implications for cancer prevention.
Although microorganisms are widely prevalent, each part of the body (system or organ) plays a distinct role and therefore requires a particular combination of bacteria for optimal function. E. coli in our intestines aid the breakdown of food and the production of essential vitamins; its presence in the urinary tract, however, gives rise to bladder and urethra infections. Disruptions to the delicate balance of microorganisms can impact negatively on health. Some bacterial species also perform diverse roles and are able to inhabit various parts of the body and adaptively respond to the environment as needed. Understanding our microbiome as a whole and as component parts – the gut, eye, and skin microbiomes – is therefore imperative.