The Human Microbiome in Health and Disease

While it may seem that we are the sole inhabitants of our bodies, we are, in fact, not alone. Instead, we share space with complex communities of microbes, known collectively as the human microbiome. Found all over the human body—the gut, skin, mouth, and nose are just a few examples—microbiota play a critical role in determining human health and disease, from shaping our metabolism to possibly affecting the human life span.

To find out just how the microbiome impacts health and disease, an interdisciplinary research team at UW–Madison has launched a new project, “The Human Microbiome in Health and Disease.” Led by Cameron Currie (bacteriology), researchers will study the microbiome as a source of new drug leads. Additionally, researchers will use the microbiome to identify metabolites that serve as biomarkers for early life diseases—asthma and autism—and aging diseases, like Alzheimer’s. The team, comprised of 14 co-principal investigators, including CDHA Director Pamela Herd, began work in the summer of 2017.

To pinpoint biomarkers across the life course, the research team plans to examine two university-based population health cohort studies. The first, the Children’s Respiratory Research and Environment Workgroup, is a national consortium of 14 institutions funded by the National Institutes of Health. Established at UW–Madison in 2016, the study tracks the early health and development of roughly 7,000 children. The Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (WLS) is a long-term study of a random sample of over 10,000 Wisconsin graduates from the high school class of 1957. Known as the “Happy Days” cohort, the group has provided data on relationships, physical and mental health, well-being, education, work, and family for sixty years.

“The Human Microbiome in Health and Disease” is part of the UW2020 initiative, a competitive funding opportunity that supports collaborative research projects that are highly innovative and have the potential to fundamentally transform a field of study. To learn more about UW2020, visit