The Alkek Center for Metagenomics and Microbiome Research (CMMR) at Baylor College of Medicine is pursuing numerous research and development efforts in the study of how the microbiome impacts human disease and how this knowledge can be translated into novel therapeutics and diagnostics. Among these efforts is a new study involving the impact of major disasters, such as Hurricane Harvey, where associated flooding and other environmental exposures to chemicals or pathogens (e.g. mold), and their impact on human health, may be reflected in the microbiome of exposed individuals. During Hurricane Harvey, Houston, Texas experienced 50 inches of rain and catastrophic flooding. This flooding caused uncontrolled releases into the environment from over a dozen Superfund sites and several chemical/petroleum facilities. In response to this disaster, we along with collaborators from Oregon State University, worked with affected communities to administer health questionnaires, deploy wristbands that detect chemical exposures, and collect biosamples for nasal, oral and gut microbiome analysis in the first 30 days after flooding, targeting 300 individuals. We are in the process of collecting a second set of data 12-months post-Hurricane Harvey from the same individuals to examine the long-term impact of this environmental disaster. These data will be integrated to identify potential exposures that adversely affect health, including in individuals with predisposition to certain diseases such as asthma. If environmental exposures and potential associated health risks are reflected in changes in the microbiome, then these microbiome associations can serve as targets or biomarkers for actionable, post-disaster responses or interventions.
1. How does one deploy a microbiome study during a time of crisis.
2. What fundamental information should be collected when sampling the human microbiome.