March 9, 2016

Systems Biology Scientists Help Expand Microbiome Research at Columbia

Staphylococcus epidermis
Interactions between human cells and the bacteria that inhabit our bodies can affect health. Here, Staphylococcus epidermis binds to nasal epithelial cells. (Image courtesy of Sheetal Trivedi and Sean Sullivan.)

Launched in 2014 by investigators in the Mailman School of Public Health, the CUMC Microbiome Working Group brings together basic, clinical, and population scientists interested in understanding how the human microbiome—the ecosystems of bacteria that inhabit and interact with our tissues and organs—affects our health. Computational biologists in the Department of Systems Biology have become increasingly involved in this interdepartmental community, contributing expertise in analytical approaches that make it possible to make sense of the large data sets that microbiome studies generate.

Describing the Department of Systems Biology's involvement in the working group, a new article in the CUMC Newsroom reports:

Recently, two computational biologists from the Department of Systems Biology—postdoctoral scientist Eugenia Lyashenko, PhD, and graduate student Boris Grinshpun—also joined the working group as co-organizers. Their efforts have increased participation by other computational scientists, including several who presented talks focusing on new methods for microbiome research.

“With next-generation sequencing,” Dr. [Nitzan] Soffer explains, “there’s suddenly an overwhelming amount of microbiome data, and using these data to understand the microbiome requires a strong computer infrastructure and programming skills. These are things that basic biologists typically have a hard time assembling, so the arrival of more expertise in computational analysis has been an exciting development.”

Dr. Lyashenko also sees the working group as an opportunity to enrich the training that computational students and postdocs in the Department of Systems Biology receive. “Our motivation,” she says, “is to offer our students ideas about what questions clinicians are trying to answer in relation to the human microbiome and what kinds of problems they face when trying to analyze data. We want them to learn how they can contribute.”

The article also announces a new Microbiome Core Facility just opened by the CUMC Department of Medicine. Led by bacteriologist and infectious disease specialist Anne-Catrin Uhlemann, the core facility will provide guidance and technical infrastructure for laboratories across Columbia University Medical Center interested in conducting large-scale microbiome studies.

Click here for the full article covering the CUMC Microbiome Working Group and Microbiome Core Facility, 

Click here to see the schedule of upcoming Microbiome Working Group seminars.