A new study from the Forsyth Institute and the Marine Biological Laboratory provides a detailed look at how the microbes in the mouth coexist. By utilizing a new fluorescence imaging technique and DNA sequencing, scientists have created a high-resolution map that allows them to see where bacteria are in relation to one another. This research is not only critical for gaining a better understanding of the microbiome that inhabits the oral cavity but will also enlighten scientists of bacterial interaction which will ultimately clarify their role in health and disease.

This new imaging technique can be used to map and study various human microbiomes, such as the gut and skin. The research team discovered that bacteria in the mouth form structures (that they termed “hedgehogs”) that suggest functional roles within the bacterial community.

“DNA sequencing does a great job of telling us what bacteria exist in the mouth,” said Dr. Gary Borisy, the paper’s primary author. “However, it leaves a big gap in our understanding of the microbiome. Without knowing what bacteria are next to each other–who is next to who and who is next to what–how can we possibly understand how they interact? It’s like having an index of place names without a map. Our research provides the map, which will allow us to answer important questions about the relationship between the bacteria and the body–and ultimately help us to understand the effect on our overall health.”

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