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University unveils microbial gene catalog

By CAO CHEN | China Daily | Updated: 2021-12-20 09:16
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A team from Fudan University in Shanghai has launched the world's most comprehensive global microbial gene catalog - a database containing 303 million unigenes that will help researchers better understand the relationship between microorganisms and human health.

A unigene is a representative DNA sequence of gene sequences that stem from the same microbial species.

A paper about the catalog, "Towards the Biogeography of Prokaryotic Genes", was published in the science journal Nature on Thursday.

Bacterial communities live in habitats and each community comprises a group of unique species called a microbiome, which contains genes with specific functions.

To collect all the genes in the global microbiome to create the catalog, a team from Fudan's Institute of Science and Technology for Brain-Inspired Intelligence - Luis Pedro Coelho, Zhao Xingming and Peer Bork - identified unigenes from 14 environments, including human and animal bodies, soil and water. They created the database based on 13,000 pieces of publicly available data.

The researchers said microbiome research is normally carried out according to different habitats such as human microorganisms and marine microorganisms, but the catalog can analyze microbial metagenomes in different habitats on a global scale.

While collecting the unigenes, they discovered that relatively few-5.8 percent-could be identified across habitats. Such unigenes were usually related to antibiotic resistance, with some able to move from one genome to another.

Understanding how bacteria and genes cross from one environment to another is critical for human health research, understanding antibiotic resistance and the development of antibacterial drugs, they said.

Zhao said the team expects to use the catalog to study the influence of microbes on human health, cognition and behavior.

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