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Population Genomics of microorganisms and their hosts in health and disease

Host-microbiome interactions

Undoubtedly microbiome research has gained an increase level of relevance. The microbial networks that live in and on the human body contain a huge number of of species that greatly vary across different tissues. Not only these communities vary across tissues within organisms, but tissue-specific microbial communities present high variability among individuals in health and disease, and high temporal dynamism. These variations in composition are likely to be influenced by numerous elements, including host diet, age, sex, weight, population density, disease status, drug use, and host genetics. Yet, most of the work developed thus far has focused on the identification of “environmental” factors that could explain differences in composition across individuals. Very little attention has been paid to the importance of host genetics at the population and individual level to explain the differences in tissue-specific microbiome composition. This is the area where our research identifying and understanding the evolutionary history of disease resistance factors to infectious diseases becomes really relevant.

We are interested in developing a more thorough understanding of the relative role of host genetics vs environmental factors in explaining microbiome diversity within and between populations. For this we are focusing our attention on the study of the oral microbiome and also the vaginal microbiome. In our research we are interested in generating quantitative and qualitative information that would help us predict how microbiome and host interact to generate emergent phenotypes. I see this research extremely important because it has the potential for increasing our understanding of the factors that increase health disparities in human populations.

Some of the work done by a star undergraduate in the lab, Ashley Huynh, generated metagenomic data for 50 oral samples obtained from plaque in humans from Congo. This work has revealed a large diversity in microbial species and functional composition, even when compared with individuals from South Africa. More on this study coming out soon as part of a manuscript in preparation.


Relevant publications

  • Huynh, Ashley, Quackenbush, Corey and Cornejo, Omar E. (in preparation). Oral metagenomic data reveals a highly diverse and divergent oral microbiome in understudied Congolese populations.
  • Dolan, Megan and Cornejo, Omar E. (in preparation). Diverse endophyte composition across highly divergent populations of the chocolate tree, Theobroma cacao L.