The major funding announcements for the Human Microbiome Project were made public today. Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis really stands out amongst those awarded grants. As the NIH press release indicates, in addition to the The Genome Center's $16.1M large-scale sequencing grant (the largest of the sequencing grants), Ellen Li, MD, PhD, Greg Storch, MD, and Phil Tarr, MD, each received about $1M demonstration project grants to study Crohn's disease, viruses that cause sudden high fevers in children, and necrotizing enterocolitis (a devastating intestinal disease mainly affecting premature infants), respectively. You can find more coverage of the grant announcements at GenomeWeb Daily News and In Sequence and the St. Louis Business Journal.
While HMP pilot projects and "jump start" funding has allowed some of the work to get underway, it really all begins now in earnest. Considering that the human microbiome makes up about 90% of the cells in the human body, i.e., only 10% of the cells in the human body are actually human, unraveling the complex interactions of all these microbes at different body sites is a daunting task. There is already evidence suggesting that the microbiome can affect many aspects of human health, from intestinal disease to gum disease to cancer to obesity. Much like the Human Genome Project paved the way for further medical discoveries, so too will the HMP.