A research team compiled a database of organisms that inhabit a healthy human gut, a move that experts say will help medical professionals understand how microbes facilitate bodily functions and cause disease.

The profile found that 157 microbial organisms live in the healthy human gut and compose part of the human gut’s microbiome – a community of bacteria, viruses and fungi that facilitate intestinal processes like digestion. Human microbiome experts said knowing which microbes reside in the healthy human gut helps researchers pinpoint abnormalities in the gut that could indicate gastrointestinal health issues.

Charles Hadley King, a senior research associate in the School of Medicine and Health Sciences and an author of the study, said he organized the project and developed the group’s data sequencing system. He said the database of healthy human gut bacteria will help researchers recognize disease-causing shifts in the types of organisms present in the microbiome.

“This knowledge base and reporting template aids in quantifying shifts in gut microbes and relating them to human health,” King said in an email. “We need to understand what is healthy to understand disease.”

The research team genetically sequenced 48 fecal samples from 16 healthy individuals in the D.C. area, according to a release on the medical school website. The researchers also examined 50 fecal samples taken from the Human Microbiome Project, a National Institutes of Health research initiative aimed at improving understanding of the microbiome, according to the release.

The team found that 84 organisms were present in all samples included in the study, indicating the number of microbes that comprise the “core” of bacterial species found in the human gut, the release states. King said the research team will continue to analyze fecal samples to further broaden the profile to include more of the microbes that inhabit the healthy human gut.

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