Microbial ecosystem in the mouth- Harvard Study
Image: Mark C March Banks

Microbial ecosystem in the mouth- Harvard Study

Microbial ecosystem in mouth is complex system- microbes make an integral part of our environment inside out. There is no denying the fact that there are an umpteen variety of microbes, out of which some have salubrious properties while others can be detrimental to health. Thus an exhaustive two-way strategy that understands the good and the bad bacteria needs to be taken to understand the still understudied microbial world in its entirety.

Complex microbial ecosystem in mouth- in-depth analysis

Researchers at Harvard have carried out a series of experiments to get deeper insights into the complex microbial system in the mouth and also study their growth patterns. The study has already found a spot in the journal Genome biology.  Let’s have a look at the study’s various details.

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Areas of study:

To study complex microbial ecosystems in the mouth, researchers used sophisticated genetic sequencing and analysis techniques to find a variety of microbes, dwelling in the mouth. The study reveals that microbes reside in our mouth in different locations like the tongue, inner lining of cheeks, and even the teeth. Now, researchers like Colleen Cavanaugh stress that the microbes can very smartly split themselves into a variety of sub-groups or sub-communities. And this is exactly the real area of study. Since some microbes are health hazards for humans and are challenging to deal with, it thus becomes imperative to study these varied populations. It is also important to study how these populations grow independently and in co-operation with other microbial communities in a particular dwelling. The study thus provides a strong foundation for the development of a stronger defense and a mitigation mechanism for the health.


An important fact emerges about a bacterial population is that bacteria residing in one part of the mouth can be significantly different from the other parts. And such differences are only speculated to widen in variety and quantity. And a microbial community in an individual’s mouth can be the same as a population in another individual’s mouth. Thus, intriguing and motivating researchers to study the concepts deeper.

Researchers deployed the Metapangenomics model, an extremely powerful method to study genetic material(aka genomes)of microbes.  The model is an intelligent combination of two techniques metagenomics and pangenomics. Using this model, researchers studied nearly 100 genomes of 4 bacterial populations residing in the mouth. And compared them with the findings of their wild counterparts of the Human Microbiome Project (HMP).

Bacterial species found in the mouth from the analysis.

A species called Haemophilus parainfluenzae and other subgroup called Rothia were found scattered in a generalized manner in the mouth. Though they were coined as generalist species, but still had umpteen differences in their properties which were different upon closer microscopic observations. This also led the researchers into busting of many speculated theories about the species. Now Haemophilus emerged as a combination of three individual sub-communities, as perceived a general one earlier. Similar results were observed after studying the genus “Rothia”. A finding that also came up as a landmark one from the study was that properties of freely-living mouth-bacteria were significantly different from those of lab-grown bacteria.

Complex microbial ecosystem in the mouth– Study holds foundation for the future antibiotics

Daniel R. Utter is a Ph.D. at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and a lead author of the study feels optimistic about the future of antibiotics. He hopes that in the future, using the results of the study- complex microbial ecosystem in the mouth, we can have antibiotics that would selectively destroy bad bacteria and retain the good ones. The study also came into being as a result of Utter’s fascination with the microbial abilities to diversify themselves into sub-groups and communities. It becomes even more fascinating for all of us including researchers as the scale of diversification is extremely miniature. Utter now aims to aggrandize the study by editing a few bacterial genomes and study their effects on microbial functioning to have a better understanding of microbes, their species, and their growth.

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