Better Tools for Research on Microbes

Even the tiniest changes in the environment can create big opportunities and challenges for plants, animals and humans. Fofanov and Johnsson have garnered international recognition for creating technologies to help monitor the sizes and genomic diversity of microbial communities.

Microbes, which are responsible for more than 50 percent of the oxygen produced on Earth, play integral roles in human body function and ecosystems, and the team's new computational tools will help researchers better understand how human activities and environmental changes affect the multitude of microbial communities that govern human health and life on our planet.

"To put it into perspective, there are more microbes than there are cells in the human body. In fact, they often are the first line of defense against disease or environmental disasters," explains Fofanov, associate professor of computer science, biology and biochemistry who heads up the Bioinformatics Laboratory. "Microbes are mostly our friends, but sometimes they can be pretty nasty."

"This approach will advance human progress in environmental protection, public health and safety, sustainable energy and many other research areas," Fofanov said. "The computational tools will pave the way to less expensive and more reliable tests that can be used across the globe. The sheer number of microbial communities presents great commercial potential," said Johnsson, Cullen distinguished professor of computer science, mathematics, and electrical and computer engineering and head of UH's TLC2 and the Advanced Computing Research Laboratory (ACRL). The team's winning contest entry was judged by internationally recognised industry and academic leaders in computation and research.

MEDICA.de; Source: University of Houston