Scientists discover thousands of tiny proteins within microbiome

Photo of gut microbes from IBM
Gut microbiome. Photo: IBM/Flickr via creative commons

Researchers say they've discovered more than 4,000 new, small protein families generated in the human microbiome, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Cell.

Why it matters: The human microbiome is thought to help maintain health but also is linked to obesity-related cancers, Alzheimer's and how cancer therapies work. The function of these newly found tiny proteins still needs to be determined, but the authors believe their size could allow them to be leveraged to deliver drugs.

Deciphering the role microbiomes may play in human health and disease

Illustration of a broken puzzle with pieces of microbes and body
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Piece by piece, scientists are trying to solve the puzzle of the ancient but evolutionary relationship between humans and their microbiomes, or the genetic world stemming from bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microbes inside or on the human body.

What's new: In the second part of a more than decade-long project to decode the genetic influence from these mysteriously important "bugs," the Integrative Human Microbiome Project (iHMP) published 3 studies Wednesday in Nature and Nature Medicine that look at how changes in the microbiome could be related to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), prediabetes and preterm births.