The human body is a marvel, a collection of cells and systems forming a unique example of the miracle of life. But while many writers and scientists have lovingly described the wonder of our mortality, few have extended that classification to our microbiomes, a collection of bacteria in our digestive system. While we often associate bacteria with sickness, microbiomes are not only vital to our survival, but also contains important data about our health. Now, a laboratory associated with the University of Colorado, Boulder is using biobanking and laboratory sample management software to investigate these organisms.
Called the American Gut Project, the laboratory is working on a subject some consider largely uncharted. We do know some information about microbiomes (for example, did you know that many people have a strain of E. coli in their gut but show no adverse symptoms?), but because the bacteria cannot survive when exposed to oxygen, it is extremely difficult to grow. To make matters worse, testing each sample can cost thousands of dollars. The American Gut Project relies on laboratory sample management software avoids these problems by testing large groups of microbial information together to reveal their genomes, relying on laboratory sample management software to store and later separate these samples to reveal their individual data.
The project begins by collecting two fecal, oral or skin samples from its participants, one of which is stored using freezer software for future study. The other is dissolved in a solution before being sent to the laboratory sample management software, which loads the samples into individual wells on a tray that will be sequenced. This part can take some time, as the machine must wait for a sufficient group of samples to be tested.
Once a large enough collection of samples is present, the laboratory sample management software loads the trays into a machine that performs a polymerase chain reaction (PCR), copying the genetic material thousands of times to make it easier for the sequencers to find the data they need. The sequencers then begin coding the information, a process that takes about 20 hours to complete. From there, the genetic code it has assembled is run through a supercomputer to sort it back into patterns. Finally, laboratory sample management software pairs this generated data back with the information supplied with the original samples, allowing the researchers to compare the information with the host’s health and other information.
This process is time-consuming and complex, but the project has already revealed some useful information: several strains of bacteria present in the microbiome has been identified. Researchers are hopeful that this data will eventually be used to reveal a number of facts about our health. Will we someday understand exactly how the bacteria in our bodies works together to facilitate human survival? Only time will tell.