One particular topic of Dr. Lederberg's interest now and then was the "microbiome"... In 2003 he talked about it as the next great frontier of human biology and drug discovery. He coined the term of course and has helped promote research in this area of study of the human body as â€œa superorganism with an extended genome that includes not only its own cells but also the fluctuating microbial genome set of bacteria and viruses that share that body space.â€It has been estimated that the human body carries more microbial cells than it does human cells. Many of these microbes, however, have not been cultivated or characterized. Some of these unknown or poorly characterized microbes probably play critical roles in maintaining human health, and the interplay among pathogenic and nonpathogenic microbes, both transient and permanent members of our microflora, is likely to exert an important influence on disease. "
As Dr. Lederberg has written, â€œWe need more research, not only on how bacteria are virulent, but how they withhold their virulence and moderate their attacks. We need to investigate how our microbiome flora â€“ the ones that we live with all the time â€“donâ€™t cause disease and instead protect us against their competitors.â€
This past summer researchers completed a map of this super-genome -- our DNA and the bacteria together -- to launch a new field of genetic research called metagenomics.
As Jeffrey Gordon, one of the researchers from the Center for Genome Sciences at Washington University,who did the mapping points out, "Prospecting for these 'natural products' and characterizing the pathways through which they operate should provide new insights into the function of many of our human genes, new ways for defining our health, new ways for identifying impending or fully manifest diseases, plus new treatment strategies."
What is it that Sir Isaac Newton wrote to Robert Hooke? "If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants."
We have all seen further and with greater clarity -- and hope -- thanks to Dr. Joshua Lederberg.