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Science in the News

National Microbiome Initiative Launched, Includes Commitment to Study Oral Microbiome

May 17, 2016

The Forsyth Institute, an American Association for Dental Research Institutional Section Member, included a new commitment for oral microbiome research as part of the National Microbiome Initiative, which was launched May 13, 2016.1 A news item, reported in the May 2016 issue of JADA,2 discussed a study from the Forsyth Institute and the Marine Biological Laboratory, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,3 which describes the use of novel imaging technology and DNA sequencing in creating a “microbial map” or “biogeography” of bacteria in dental plaque.

In the paper, researchers3 asserted that the physiology and ecology of complex microbial communities (i.e., microbiomes) are “strongly dependent” on each microbe’s immediate surroundings, including the identity of neighboring microbes; however, “information on the micron-scale organization of microbiomes is largely lacking.” Supragingival plaque was collected from 22 healthy volunteers. Volunteers refrained from oral hygiene for 12 to 48 hours before sample collection. Plaque was collected using toothpicks to scrape visible plaque from the gingival margin or tooth surface, or using floss to collect plaque from throughout the mouth. DNA sequencing combined with spectral fluorescence imaging showed a “multigenus, highly organized microbial consortium in human dental plaque.” The structure was likened to a hedgehog because of its spiny, radially oriented filaments (i.e., a mass of Corynebacterium filaments with Streptococcus spp. at the edges). 

The researchers identified nine bacterial taxa as “regular participants” in the hedgehog-like structures in dental plaque: Corynebacterium, Streptococcus, Porphyromonas, Haemophilus/Aggregatibacter, Neisseriaceae, Fusobacterium, Leptotrichia, Capnocytophaga, and Actinomyces. The authors concluded that, “…the biogeography of a microbial community on the micron scale reveals a spatial organization critical to understanding the physiology, ecology, and functional significance of the community.”

Forsyth will dedicate up to $100,000 per year for three years for pilot grant funding for novel microbiome projects in its newly formed Host-Microbiome Center.1 The funding is intended to support exploratory or proof-of-principle studies for which no other funding sources are available. According to a press release, “[s]uch studies must have the potential to develop into full-fledged research projects that test new paradigms, and can lead to intellectual property, and NIH or other extramural funding.”


  1. American Association for Dental Research. Press Release: The National Microbiome Initiative Launches Today, AADR Member The Forsyth Institute is Recognized for its Commitment. May 13, 2016. Accessed May 13, 2016.  
  2. Mouth Microbes Mapped, Report Scientists. J Am Dent Assoc 2016;147(5):318.
  3. Mark Welch JL, Rossetti BJ, Rieken CW, Dewhirst FE, Borisy GG. Biogeography of a human oral microbiome at the micron scale. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2016;113(6):E791-800.

Prepared by: Center for Scientific Information, ADA Science Institute

About Science in the News

Science in the News is a service by the American Dental Association (ADA) to its members to present current information about science topics in the news. The ADA is a professional association of dentists committed to the public's oral health, ethics, science and professional advancement; leading a unified profession through initiatives in advocacy, education, research and the development of standards. As a science-based organization, the ADA's evaluation of the scientific evidence may change as more information becomes available. Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

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