At this year’s Canadian Society for Immunology conference, the CIHR director of Infection and Immunity outlined the five year strategic plan for health sciences research in Canada. In his talk, Marc Oullette highlighted the priority funding areas for the coming years. A major priority for Canadian Research will be the control and prevention of chronic diseases with special emphasis placed on the study of the microbiome – the feature topic for this issue of IMMpress Magazine.
For many years, the role of bacteria as disease-causing agents was a contentious issue. But in the beginning of the 1880s, work by Heinrich Koch on Bacillus anthracis, Tuberculosis bacillus, and Vibrio cholerae established microbes as definitive pathogens. Koch postulated his “germ theory” and revolutionized the medical system at the time but also pigeonholed bacteria and viruses as the root causes of disease for many years to come. The non-pathogenic and potentially beneficial roles of commensal bacteria remained largely unstudied but slowly and surely evidence grew. By the mid-1970s, it became apparent that the human body had roughly ten times as many bacterial cells as eukaryotic cells.
By the beginning of the 21st century, the sequencing of the human genome prompted an outcry from the microbial community for equal representation. Prominent scientists, like David Relman and Stanley Falkow of Stanford University, called for “the second human genome project” to provide a “comprehensive inventory of microbial genes and genomes at the four major sites of microbial colonization in the human body”. In this period of rapid shotgun sequencing, the term “microbiome” was first coined by Nobel Laureate Joshua Lederberg to represent “the ecological community of commensal, symbiotic, and pathogenic microorganisms that literally share our body space”. Over the last decade, the evidence in favour of commensal microbiota as positive regulators of metabolism and immunity has grown rapidly to the point where human fecal transfer studies have not only been conducted, but also shown to have positive clinical outcomes. These and other studies emphasize the importance of the microbiome in human health, and indicate that our picture of the human body is incomplete without an understanding of the varying host microbial components.
In our second issue of IMMpress Magazine, we examine microbiome research in the Department of Immunology and highlight the Canadian Foundation for Innovation grant recently awarded to Dr. Dana Philpott for the expansion of microbiome research in Canada. In this issue, look for our feature articles on the newly minted CIHR open access policy and the language of science.
I would like to thank the Department of Immunology and Dr. Juan Carlos Zúñiga-Pflücker for his continued enthusiasm and support. Thank you also to all the talented writers, designers, and contributors for their dedication and hard work, especially our managing editor and design director, Charles Tran.