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UMCG to study the gut flora of 10,000 LifeLines participants

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08 November 2017

​​​A research group headed by Professor Cisca Wijmenga (Genetics) and Professor Rinse Weersma (Gastroenterology and Hepatology) from the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG) intends to study the gut flora of 10,000 LifeLines participants in what is known as a metagenomics analysis. The UMCG is working in partnership with Novogene in this ‘10K Metagenome Project’. The project involves analysing the intestinal bacteria in faeces samples from 10,000 LifeLines participants to study the role that gut flora play in promoting good health and preventing disease.

Our guts are home to at least 10,000 billion bacteria and there is mounting evidence that they play an important part in our health. The initiative for the 10K Metagenome Project follows on from large-scale research in 2016, which examined the diversity of intestinal bacteria and the factors that influence them in some 1,500 LifeLines participants. This research, led by Cisca Wijmenga, Jingyuan Fu, Alexandra Zhernakova and Rinse Weersma from the UMCG, clearly showed that certain nutrients such as coffee, buttermilk and red wine promote diversity, while fizzy drinks, full-fat milk and some drugs (such as gastric acid suppressants) have a negative effect. 

The aim of the 10K Metagenome Project is to analyse the intestinal bacteria of 10,000 LifeLines participants by means of ‘next generation sequencing’. This larger study will enable researchers to examine the diversity of intestinal bacteria in more detail, including the role of differences in genetic variation between people, disorders such as IBS and psychiatric conditions such as depression. Novogene will carry out the ‘next generation sequencing’ for the faeces samples collected by the UMCG, and the analyses will be conducted by UMCG researchers. 

‘This ‘shotgun’ metagenome sequencing will not only enable us to examine the composition of bacteria in the gut (which strain and how many of each bacterium), but also what they do (their function). We already know that intestinal bacteria play a crucial role in digesting food and producing certain vitamins. However, we still know very little about which bacteria are responsible for what, and how intrinsic factors (e.g. blood pressure, age, weight) and exogenous factors (e.g. diet, medicines) correlate with changes in the composition and function of our gut flora’, says Cisca Wijmenga, winner of the 2015 Spinoza Prize. ‘By combining this extensive dataset with all the information gathered and stored in the LifeLines biobank over the past 10 years, we can discover which bacteria prevent, or cause, disease. This knowledge is the first step towards finding new ways of preventing or treating diseases on the basis of intestinal bacteria.’

‘By leveraging the largest sequencing capacity in the world as well as its rich experience with next-generation sequencing technology, Novogene is taking an active role in accelerating genomic studies from all over the world’, said Ms Tingting Zhou, General Manager of Novogene Europe. ‘It’s a great honour to be partnering distinguished scholars from UMCG on the 10K Metagenome Project. This unique study will shed more light on the bacteria in the gut, and give us a better understanding of human health. We are proud to be part of it.’​