CMR awarded $2.9M to build Australia’s first comprehensive human microbiome biobank  

  • Majority of microorganisms from the human microbiome have yet to be cultured in the laboratory. 
  • This biobank will make thousands of novel microorganisms from the human microbiome available to researchers and commercial entities. 
  • These microorganisms have the potential to enhance biotherapeutic opportunities in a market estimated to reach $2.6 billion in 7 years. 

QUT has been awarded a $2.92 million grant to build The Australian Human Microbiome Biobank.  

The three-year project, funded by a Medical Research Future Fund National Critical Research Infrastructure grant, will build a new cultivation platform to enable the isolation and genomic characterisation of tens of thousands of microbial strains from the human body. 

Lead investigator Professor Gene Tyson, director of the Centre for Microbiome Research and co-founder of the human gut microbiome analysis company Microba, said the world-leading biobank would help overcome major obstacles in human microbiome research. 

“The human body is home to diverse communities of bacteria, archaea, fungi, protists and viruses, which collectively encode 150 times more genes than the human genome,” Professor Tyson said.  

“These microorganisms, known as the human microbiome, provide defence against pathogens, aid in metabolism, help regulate the immune system and produce thousands of metabolites that influence pathways throughout the body. 

“While most of these microorganisms live in the gut, they also inhabit many different parts of the body including the skin, vagina, mouth and other mucosal surfaces, with each community having a unique composition, function and contribution to our health. 

“Increasing evidence has demonstrated that imbalances in the microbiome are associated with a range of health conditions, including inflammatory disorders, metabolic diseases, mental health disorders, neurological conditions and infections.  

“However, more than 70 per cent of microorganisms living in and on the human body have yet to be cultured in the laboratory.” 

“The development of new diagnostic and therapeutic tools from the microbiome is possible only if microorganisms of interest can be isolated and studied in the laboratory,” Professor Tyson said.  

“Our team has developed a new platform that will allow us to bring thousands of new species into culture for the first time so that we can study their functional roles. 

“By building a comprehensive biobank of human-associated microorganisms and making them available to researchers and commercial entities, this work will help expedite the discovery and translation of new health solutions worldwide.” 

Professor Tyson said that ultimately an online database would be made that contained the identity, genome sequence and growth conditions for every microorganism in the biobank.  

“This will serve as an invaluable resource for the development of novel consumer health products, such as prebiotics and probiotics, as well as live biotherapeutics, a new class of microbiome-derived drugs with a market estimated to reach $2.6 billion by 2030.” 

The QUT research team comprises Professor Gene Tyson, Dr Simon McIlroy, Dr Elise Pelzer, Dr Allison McInnes, Dr James Volmer, Dr Suzanne McCusker and Dr Kaylyn Tousignant. The team also includes interdisciplinary researchers and clinicians across Australia, including Professor Trent Munro, Dr Páraic Ó Cuív, and Dr Nicola Angel (Microba), Dr Emily Hoedt (The University of Newcastle), Professor Gerald Holtman (The University of Queensland), Professor Fiona Wood (Royal Perth Hospital), Professor Ben Howden (University of Melbourne) and Associate Professor Asha Bowen (Perth Children’s Hospital), as well as industry partners Microba Life Sciences, Cytek Biosciences and Illumina.