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Scientists Chip Away at Mystery of What Lives in Our Mouths

germsBelieve it or not, a lot of what lives in our mouth is still unknown to scientists. Recent research strives to understand the 60% of bacteria in our mouths that scientists have so far been unable to study. Read on to learn more, and thanks for visiting us at Castle Rock Endodontics.

Scientists have pieced together sections of DNA from 12 individual cells to sequence the genome of a bacterium known to live in healthy human mouths.

With this new data about a part of the body considered “biological dark matter,” the researchers were able to reinforce a theory that genes in a closely related bacterium could be culprits in its ability to cause severe gum disease.

Why the dark matter reference? More than 60 percent of bacteria in the human mouth refuse to grow in a laboratory dish, meaning they have never been classified, named or studied. The newly sequenced bacterium, Tannerella BU063, is among those that to date have not successfully been grown in culture — and its genome is identified as “most wanted” by the Human Microbiome Project.

The federal Human Microbiome Project aims to improve research about the microbes that play a role in health and disease. Those 12 cells of BU063 are a good example of the complexity of life in the mouth: They came from a single healthy person but represented eight different strains of the bacterium.

BU063 is closely related to the pathogen Tannerella forsythia, a bacterium linked to the gum disease periodontitis. Despite being “cousins,” this research revealed that they have clear differences in their genetic makeup.

Those genes lacking in BU063 but present in forsythia — meaning they are a likely secret behind forsythia’s virulence — are now identified as good targets for further study, researchers say.

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