Fulfilling the Human Microbiome Project (henceforth known as HMP)’s tantalizing potential requires a comprehensive sample of human microbiomes. And when I write comprehensive, I mean comprehensive. Comprehensive as in ideally every population of humans on the planet would participate. The study published this summer only sampled 242 ‘healthy’ Texans and Missourians and is therefore what its title claims it is: a framework for microbiome study. To get to the really juicy bits of this vein of scientific inquiry we need hugely diverse samples. And here is the rub: how do researchers ethically collect HMP data from hesitant (or un-) willing populations – for example, indigenous North American communities?
It is a well-known (but still fun) fact that the amount of microorganisms in your body outnumbers your own cells 10 to 1. Hundreds of trillions of microbes live within one human body – many crucial to the body’s health and physiological function. Until just recently microbes seemed to get the shafted by biologists, many of who were only interested in the host organism, you or me for example, but largely ignored the influences of our passenger-partners (excepting the virulent or dangerous ones, of course).