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Clarifying the role of Blastocystis in human intestinal disease (BLASTOHIT2012)
Start date: Sep 13, 2013, End date: Mar 12, 2016 PROJECT  FINISHED 

It is now realised that the human intestinal microbiota is central to health and wellbeing. However, the vast amount of research into the human microbiome has focused primarily on the prokaryotic (bacterial) component of this complex microbial ecosystem and we understand virtually nothing of the eukaryotic species, such as the protists, that are known to play critical roles in structuring microbial communities in other natural ecosystems. Blastocystis is the most common protist in the human intestinal tract (IT); current estimates indicate that it colonises up to 1 billion people worldwide. Crucially, Blastocystis is considered to be an emerging pathogen, but its role in human illness and disease is both controversial and unclear.The key research goal of this project is to clarify the role of Blastocystis in human intestinal health and disease. For this project there will be a specific focus on Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). We will analyse the prevalence and genetic diversity of Blastocystis in IBS together with healthy individuals and study the interactions between Blastocystis and specific intestinal bacteria. We will use an integrated series of state-of-the-art experiments encompassing both quantitative and qualitative analysis. These include a novel high-throughput PCR with high genetic resolution to assess Blastocystis variation in IBS and healthy groups, next-generation sequence analysis of IT bacteria, quantitative PCR, virulence assays, in vitro microcosm experiments and phenotypic assays.The novel interdisciplinary framework outlined in this proposal that combines molecular microbial surveys of the human IT with experimental microbial ecology and evolution, will allow us to address unresolved and original research questions. Data from this study also has the potential for commercialisation including the development of novel therapeutic treatments.
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