If you are following this blog, you may have watched the Borderlands Science introduction video with Dr Mayim Bialik (https://youtu.be/L_mH6Ak_Ny0). That short video explains that the purpose of the game is the classification of DNA in microbes coming from human excrements. The video explains that we need to know more about them because they are important for human health.

As we will be releasing new blog posts on results from Borderlands Science, and why these results are useful, we thought it would be a good idea to start with why exactly these specific cells are so important, because that is at the center of why what the Borderlands Science community accomplished is important.

What are these microbes exactly?

These microbes are members of what we know as the human microbiome. This name, from micro- (small) and biome (an ecology term describing naturally occurring community of animals and vegetals such as the tundra), refers to an immense community of tens of trillions of microbes living inside humans that you can picture as a tiny forest with tiny trees, foxes, wolves, deer, etc…

But instead of these animals, we have microbes. There exists an extremely wide variety of microbes (much wider than say, animals), so we cannot list them all but the most common types of microbes are bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

These microbes, which represent over half of the cells found in the human body, live on or within human body parts such as the skin, the reproductive system, the lungs, the mouth, the eyes and the digestive system, especially the gut.

In this project, we only focus on microbes found in the gut because they are the most common and the easiest to work with since they can be found in stool samples, and mostly on bacteria, the most common type of microbe.

How do they affect human health?

You have certainly heard of bacteria and viruses before, but we most often hear of them as causes of illnesses. Indeed, bacterias such as e. coli make humans sick, just like viruses like the common cold or covid-19.

However, not all microbes are bad! The vast majority of bacteria you interact with are actually good for your health. It turns out our bodies are not very good at digesting certain foods such as fibres. Yet, most people can eat a lot of fibre and be just fine, because their gut bacteria digest it for them.

When we don’t have the right gut microbes for the things we need our digestive system to do, we can develop health issues. For instance, we know that changes in the composition of the gut microbiome are linked with chronic inflammatory diseases, and that a lower diversity of the gut microbiome (e.g. fewer types of bacteria) is linked with obesity.

In short, we do not know everything yet, but very often, when scientists look at someone suffering from a digestion-related illness, they find a disruption in the gut microbiome.

How can improving an alignment help understand them?

It’s specifically because we do not know a lot about the specific mechanisms of how the gut microbiome impacts these digestive illnesses and malfunctions that we need your help!

The main issue is that we know very little about the gut microbes, because there are trillions of them and we only recently identified them as key actors of human health. Everyone has a different microbial composition, and there certainly is a lot of redundancy in the function of different microbes.

In order to be able to understand how the microbiome carries its digestive functions, we would need to know which microbes perform which tasks. This is something we can get insight on by learning more about which microbes have similar functions.

Luckily for us, the biological function of bacteria tends to be heavily linked to its DNA. This means that if we can identify two bacteria with similar DNA, we can hypothesize that they have a similar function. And to do that, the first thing we need to do is to align them. That’s where you come in!

You can read more about the gut microbiome here:

Or listen to the special Borderlands Science podcast on the science behind Borderlands Science: https://www.youtube.com/live/iT2EQHFfgs4?feature=share


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