Microbiomes new research frontier
Garret Suen, Assistant Professor
Department of Bacteriology
UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
3:03 – Total Time
0:14 – What is a microbiome
0:30 – Microbiomes large and small
0:41 – Life driven by microbiomes
1:10 – Cow rumen a microbiome
1:50 – Powerful new technology
2:29 – Will touch medicine and agriculture
2:55 – Lead out
Sevie Kenyon: The new frontier of microbiomes. We are visiting today with Garret Suen, department of Bacteriology, University of Wisconsin-Madison in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and I’m Sevie Kenyon. Garret, start out by defining for us, what is a microbiome?
Garret Suen: A microbiome is the collection of all microbes that lives within a given environment. So what we are talking about, are all the bacteria, all the archaea, all the fungi, and all of the viruses that live within any type of community.
Sevie Kenyon: How big is a biome?
Garret Suen: Gosh, the biome can be as small as a community that lives on your pinky finger to the entire collection of microbes that live inside of a lake.
Sevie Kenyon: Garret, what causes this to be so important to us?
Garret Suen: From a very applied perspective, just as an example, we are now beginning to understand that many processes that we see in animals are available because of microbes. So one example is the cow. Where the cow in of itself, when it consumers the corn and the different types of feed, it actually can’t digest it on its own. It actually requires a microbe community to do that digestion and extract those nutrients to provide it for the host.
Sevie Kenyon: Garret, maybe tell us a little bit about your line of research.
Garret Suen: Sure. I am a rumen microbiologist. So I am very interested in how we might be able to modify that rumen microbial community so that we could improve production in things like milk and also in meat. What we’re very interested in, is figuring out ways where we can utilize the natural community that is found inside of a cow and maybe begin to shape and change it so that it becomes more efficient. Whether that is by feeding those microbes different types of foods and changing the diet or by introducing things like probiotics, we might be able to actually improve milk production efficiency.
Sevie Kenyon: Garret, what’s different about this line of study versus what’s come before?
Garret Suen: I think the big thing is that people realize that microbiomes were there, but we never had the technology to be able to fully understand and comprehend every single microbial member of that community. And so this has really been facilitated by next generation sequencing. And what that is, is the ability to massively sequence DNA on the cheap. And so now what we can do is we can go into any community, catalog every single organism that is there, along with the genes for which they encode, and get a good sense of not only who is there, but what they potentially might be doing.
Sevie Kenyon: Garret, where do you see this study of microbiomes being 5, 10, 15 years down the road?
Garret Suen: I think what we are going to see is major impacts of the microbiome in general on every aspect of life that we can imagine. For example, in the human side of things, we can imagine that we might actually have microbiome therapies. On the agricultural front, we are very much hoping that by using microbiomes, we might be able to in fact improve production of our livestock all the way around basically to use what the animal already has, and to enhance it.
Sevie Kenyon: We have been visiting with Garret Suen, Department of Bacteriology, University of Wisconsin-Madison in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and I’m Sevie Kenyon.