Jeroen Raes (VIB-KU Leuven Center for Microbiology): “The microbiome field is still in the development phase, so the datasets aren’t as big as they are, for example, in genetics GWAS studies. This being said, in our Flemish Gut Flora Project, there are about 3,500 individuals for which we have microbiome and genetics data, and will be generating metabolomics in the future. In addition to all the clinical and questionnaire data, this is becoming quite an impressive dataset, I’d say – and the multiomics integration won’t be straightforward. Things will become even bigger in the future – for the trials we are currently planning, we will be collecting between 15,000 and 20,000 samples. The biggest challenge there is not the data analysis, but the logistics! ! Yet, it’s still not enough –in our recent Science paper, we estimated that at least 40,000 individuals need to be sampled to have a complete view of gut biodiversity in the healthy population. So, we still have quite some work ahead of us!”
VIB, Ghent University and KU Leuven have launched a new spin-off: Aphea.Bio. This new company will develop sustainable agricultural products based on natural microorganisms to increase crop yields and to protect them against specific fungal diseases. Thanks to a successful Series A financing round and an R&D grant approved by Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship (VLAIO), Aphea.Bio is now backed by 9 million euros of funding, giving it a clear shot at a leading position in the fast-emerging market of biopesticides and biostimulants. Headquartered in Ghent , Belgium, Aphea.Bio will be led by CEO Dr. Isabel Vercauteren and CSO Dr. Steven Vandenabeele.
Did you know that one of the world’s largest gut microbiome research efforts is run by a VIB lab? Jeroen Raes and his team started a bottom-up initiative in 2012 that would soon turn out to be a huge research project involving the collection of thousands of Flemish stool samples. The goal of the Flemish Gut Flora Project? To investigate the links between the billions of gut bacteria, health and lifestyle. The project’s first extensive paper was released in April and was immediately a massive hit in scientific circles – and beyond.
Despite recent progress, the organization and ecological properties of the intestinal microbial ecosystem remain under investigated. Using a manually curated metabolic module framework for (meta-)genomic data analysis, Sara Vieira-Silva, Gwen Falony and colleagues from the Jeroen Raes lab (VIB/KU Leuven) studied species-function relationships in gut microbial genomes and microbiomes. The team of the Flemish Gut Flora Project observed that half of the bacteria in the human gut were metabolic generalists, while others were specializing and feeding on specific substrates, such as carbohydrates, proteins, or lipids.
Recent research with mice points to a link between the composition of gut flora and the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers from KU Leuven and VIB have now joined a European research project that will investigate this link in greater detail and develop possible treatments based on their findings.
Primary sclerosing cholangitis, also known as PSC, is a liver disease with no effective medical treatment. Liver transplantation is the only proven long-term treatment of PSC, although only a fraction of individuals with PSC will ultimately require it. The vast majority of patients with PSC also have inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis), possibly implying that the intestine plays a role in the origin of this PSC. Researchers from VIB, UZ Leuven and KU Leuven now describe for the first time how changes in the intestinal microbiota are specifically associated with this disease.
The Flemish Gut Flora Project, one of the largest population-wide studies on gut flora variation among healthy volunteers, has presented its first major results. Through the analysis of more than 1,000 human stool samples, a team of researchers led by professor Jeroen Raes (VIB/VUB/KU Leuven) has identified 69 factors that are linked to gut flora composition. These results provide important information for future disease research and clinical studies. The project’s fundamental insights will be published in the upcoming issue of the leading academic journal Science.
The ocean is the largest carbon sink on the planet. The community of planktonic organisms involved in the removal of carbon from the upper layers of the ocean has now been described by an interdisciplinary team bringing together oceanographers, biologists and computer scientists, principally from the CNRS, UPMC, Nantes University, VIB, EMBL and CEA. This first overview of the network of species linked to the oceanic biological pump has revealed some new players as well as the main bacterial functions participating in the process. It was obtained by analyzing samples collected by the Tara Oceans expedition in the nutrient-poor regions that cover most of the oceans. The scientists have also shown that the presence of a small number of bacterial and viral genes predicts variation in carbon export from the upper layers of the ocean. These findings should enable researchers to better understand the sensitivity of this network to a changing ocean and to better predict the effects that climate change will have on the functioning of the biological carbon pump, which is a key process for sequestering carbon at global scale. Published on 10 February 2016 on the website of the journal Nature, this work highlights the important role played by plankton in the climate system.