Dr. Morgan Langille
Inflammation, Infection & Immunity
In search of the “missing organ”
Our bodies harbour as many microbes as they do human cells, says Dr. Morgan Langille, Canada Research Chair in Human Microbiomics at Dalhousie Medical School. These single-celled organisms—known collectively as the microbiome—do more than just reside in our guts, lungs, sinuses and skin.
“The microbiome is sometimes referred to as ‘the missing organ,’ because it plays such a vital role in our functioning and health,” says Dr. Langille, who is also an assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology and director of the Integrated Microbiome Resource (a research facility) at Dal. “It interacts with all our systems, including our nervous system, digestive system and immune system, in ways that are only just being recognized.”
Dr. Langille and colleagues at Dalhousie Medical School are exploring many aspects of the microbiome. “We want to understand not just which microbes are present, but their relative proportions and what each one is doing… for example, is it making a vitamin, degrading a protein or producing a fatty acid?” he explains. “That means analyzing all the DNA in all the genes of all the billions of bacteria… that’s a lot of information.”
Microbiomic analysis is complex, so Dr. Langille is spearheading a project to develop new software and expertise in this area. This will be funded by proceeds from Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation’s 2016 Molly Appeal.
“We will use the Molly Appeal funds to develop new technologies for rapidly and accurately sequencing and analyzing large volumes of data,” he says. “Then we can start to uncover how the microbiome can be used as a key to understanding an individual’s susceptibility to disease, predicting their response to treatment, and developing a personalized approach to their care.”
Many Dalhousie medical researchers rely on Dr. Langille and the Integrated Microbiome Resource. These include: Dr. Anil Adisesh, who is investigating how changes in the lung microbiome may contribute to lung disease in welders; Dr. Andrew Stadnyk, who is studying the inflammatory mechanisms of colitis; Dr. Johan Van Limbergen, who is conducting large-scale clinical studies in Crohn’s disease; and Dr. John Rohde, who studies how the gut microbiome acts as a natural defence against invading pathogens such as those causing food poisoning.