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MetaGenoPolis demonstrator. © INRA, NICOLAS Bertrand

A scientific breakthrough: microbiota at the heart of human health and well-being

Explore the billions of bacteria that inhabit the human intestine – or microbiota – to prevent and treat disease: that is the raison d’être of MetaGenoPolis (MGP), officially inaugurated on 2 July 2013. This project is the only one of its kind in Europe, with funding of up to €19 million from the French Stimulus Initiative. Coordinated and hosted by INRA, MGP brings together the French Institute of Cardiometabolism and Nutrition (ICAN) and the Catholic University of Lyon. It consists of four innovative platforms for the advancement of medicine, science and industry. These ground-breaking tools will allow for the analysis of 7,000 samples per year and the screening of 200,000 metagenomic clones(1).

By INRA News Office, translated by Inge Laino
Updated on 06/22/2017
Published on 07/02/2013

From the moment he is born, man is host to a large number of microorganisms. After only 24 hours of life, the intestines already contain up to 100,000 billion bacteria that play a vital role in the immune system, offering protection against disease and infection, and aiding in the breakdown of food. A key mechanism of the human body, intestinal microbiota is crucial for the health and well-being of man.

MetaGenoPolis: a pre-industrial demonstrator for biotechnology

MGP aims to demonstrate the impact of intestinal microbiota on health and non-infectious diseases, determine the key components in the interaction between microflora and intestinal cells, and develop new ways of modelling bacterial populations. It consists of four innovative platforms that provide academic, medical, and industrial communities with facilities, equipment and a knowledge base unmatched anywhere in Europe:

  • Sambo aims to create a national biobank consisting of more than one million samples taken from human intestines, to satisfy the growing demand generated by clinical trials and large epidemiological and nutritional cohort studies.
  • MetaFun is a platform for functional metagenomics based on high through-put screening technologies. This tool allows scientists to identify the molecules and mechanisms that serve as vectors of communication between intestinal bacteria and human cells (biomarkers, therapeutic pathway).
  • MetaQuant is a quantitative metagenomic platform: it allows for high through-put DNA sequencing and develops specific bioinformatic tools for measuring the relative abundance of genes and bacterial species in samples taken from human intestines. By comparing the metagenomic profiles of different people, researchers can identify what constitutes “normal” intestinal microbiota, explore the relationship between intestinal bacteria and disease, and observe how people respond to medical treatment and diet. They can also monitor in real time the impact of any intervention (medicine or food).
  • Soca determines the societal and ethical impact of research in human metagenomics in the nutrition and medical fields.  

In concrete terms, thanks to MGP, by 2015 it will be possible to analyse 7,000 samples per year with MetaQuant and screen 200,000 metagenomic clones1 with MetaFun. Sambo will be able to store 10,000 samples and treat more than 2,000 of them per year in an entirely automated process.

Practical applications in medicine and nutrition

The goal of MetaGenoPolis is to demonstrate that it is possible to protect, restore and graft intestinal bacteria in order to prevent and treat disease in the medical and nutrition fields. The MGP project allows for the detection of new biomarkers for the risk of disease so that non-invasive diagnostic tools and high-precision prognoses can be developed for the early detection of diseases such as metabolic syndrome and cirrhosis of the liver. It also provides information on how the microbiome(2) is affected by different treatments (eg antibiotics) or certain foods. MGP therefore seeks to develop personalised treatments and nutritional recommendations for the prevention of chronic disease. It opens up the possibility for new treatments modelling intestinal microbiota (prebiotics, probiotics, functional foods, etc.). For example, a low-calorie diet boosts metabolism but also enhances the make-up of the microbiome. Since its launch, MGP has spearheaded eight projects with industrial and academic partners. In three years’ time, it will have spawned at least 15 new R&D projects.

INRA: leading the way in human metagenomics

Metagenomics is the study of the genetic content taken from a complex environment, such as the intestines, through the direct sequencing of DNA present in samples. Since the dawn of this discipline, INRA has taken a leadership role at international level, thanks notably to its research in microbial ecology. The MetaGenoPolis project came about from knowledge acquired from European projects such as MetaHIT and Micro-Obese, with ground-breaking results (see below) including:
- the creation of a large repertoire of genes from human intestinal microbiota;
- the discovery of three types of human intestinal bacterial signatures (three human “enterotypes”);
- the characterisation of microbiota associated with two major diseases, namely obesity and chronic intestinal inflammatory disease;
- the development on a pilot scale of a high through-put screening system in functional metagenomics.

Read previous press releases:
- Bacteria that live within us, a new organ? (14/03/2012)
- Intestinal flora can differentiate individuals (20/04/2011)

[1] These metagenomic clones contain large fragments of genomes from the human intestinal microbiome.

[2] The microbiome refers to the entire genome of the microbiota.

INRA News Office, translated by Inge Laino
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