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Humans and the Microbiome

Principal Investigator:
  • Brett Finlay, University of British Columbia
  • Janet Rossant, The Hospital For Sick Children
Team Members:
  • Thomas Bosch, Universität Kiel
  • Tamara Giles-Vernick, Institut Pasteur
  • Philippe Gros, McGill University
  • Karen Guillemin, University of Oregon
  • Frédéric Keck, Musée du quai de Branly
  • Sven Pettersson, Karolinska Institutet
  • Tobias Rees, McGill University
  • Philippe Sansonetti, Institut Pasteur
  • Margaret Lock, McGill University

Project Overview

The CIFAR Humans & the Microbiome program brings together 21 researchers to examine what consciousness is and how it comes about. The program is part of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, which was founded in 1982 to bring together researchers from across disciplines and borders to address important questions that affect humanity. Fellows in CIFAR programs come together regularly to collaborate in interdisciplinary groups which give rise to new insights.

The program is Co-Directed by B. Brett Finlay of the University of British Columbia and Janet Rossant of the Hospital for Sick Children. Researchers examine the role that the microbiome plays in human health and development, and its long-term effects on our evolution and society. By understanding the relationship between the microbiome and human biology, they expect to open new insights into the root of human disease, issues of early development, human susceptibility to future pandemics and other public health challenges, and even human behaviour.

A recent collaboration between Fellows Tamara Giles-Vernick of the Institut Pasteur, Hendrik Poinar of McMaster University, Frédéric Keck of the Musée du quai de Branly, Philippe Sansonetti of the Institut Pasteur and Co-Director Finlay of the University of British Columbia resulted in a breakthrough technique for sampling dental pulp from three skull samples, which were generously provided by the Université Cheikh Anta Diop in Senegal. A patent has been filed for the new technique, and plans to analyze more samples are currently underway. The aim is to look more deeply at the effect of European colonization on the microbiome of humans in Africa.

A new collaboration between Finlay and Senior Fellow Michael Kobor of the University of British Columbia, who is a Senior Fellow in another CIFAR program called Child & Brain Development. The collaboration will look into the effects of poor nutrition on the prevalence of environmental enteropathy, a disease of the intestines that causes inflammation and prevents proper nutrient uptake. The combined expertise of the two programs will be harnessed to understand the effect of the gut and associated digestive processes on DNA methylation (i.e., changes to DNA structure) in early life linked to the development of the disease.