Humans &
the Microbiome

Humans & the Microbiome Banner

About this program

How do microbes that live in and on us affect our health, development and even behaviour?

As many as 1,000 different species of bacteria make their homes inside or on humans. Yet, we have had little understanding of their role in human health and disease. New scientific techniques have created an explosion of knowledge about these microorganisms, collectively called the microbiome, and have initiated one of the fastest growing areas of biology research today. CIFAR’s program in Humans & the Microbiome examines the human microbiome and the role it plays in human health and development, and its long-term effects on our evolution and society.

Program at a glance

Founded in
2014
Members
19
Supporters
  •   Manulife 
  •   Trottier Family Foundation
  •   1 Anonymous Donor
Partners
  •   Brain Canada Foundation through the Canada Brain Research Fund
  •   Fonds de recherche du Québec - Santé (FRQs)
  •   Genome British Columbia
  •   Genome Canada

Disciplines
Microbiology; developmental, evolutionary and stem cell biology; bacteriology; immunology; history; anthropology

Program details 

Until now, research into the microbiota has been fragmented, with much of it focused on specific diseases. Our program in Humans & the Microbiome uniquely brings together biologists – covering the full spectrum of microbial, cell, developmental and evolutionary biology – with anthropologists and historians. In order to shape a new, unified understanding of the relationship between the microbiome and humans, CIFAR fellows are creating links across vastly different areas of expertise and exploring the relationships of three interconnected themes: evolution, development and society.

Through this unique interdisciplinary approach, the program will shed new light on broad issues of human health, such as healthy aging, human development and the effects of diet and drug treatments, and will delve into how the microbiome has interacted with human evolution and cultural and societal practices.

Microbes represent a significant unexplored link to human health, development and evolution. Populations are highly distinctive between individuals, yet have fundamental connections with key molecular processes in human development, health and even epigenetic change. By gaining a complete picture of the relationship between the microbiome and human biology, we will open up new avenues to understanding the root of human disease, issues of early development, our susceptibility to future pandemics and other public health challenges, and even human behaviour.


To fully understand the impact of the microbiome on humans, we need an integrated view of its relationship with health, development, individual behaviour, and societal and cultural practice. This research undertakes to explain current and historical human differences across generations, geographies, genders and ethnicities. Ultimately, it will have a major impact on how individuals manage their personal health and how policy makers support a healthy society.

Thanks to advances in gene sequencing there has been a recent explosion in information about microbial communities in and on humans. Although the microbiota are technically not essential for life, their colonisation of a human host immediately following birth is considered essential for healthy development. Their role in nutrient processing, metabolism and controlling pathogens has led to the concept that together, microbes and humans comprise a “superorganism”.

Because microbiota can respond to environmental change by adapting their genetic makeup quickly (they can alter genetics through many generations produced over the human lifespan; whereas it takes the human species as many as 50 generations to achieve genetic change), they can respond to new situations and help facilitate human adaption. This program aims to show how the microbiome has co-evolved with humans and how this has provided a critical buffer to changing food supply or the onslaught of new diseases and pandemics. Past patterns will be vital to understanding how humans may fare if microbial populations decline due to use of antibiotics and antiseptics.

Finally, anthropologists and social scientists will examine how the microbiome has driven human behaviour and cultural practices in different societies. This includes social, cultural, political, economic and environmental relations that manifest differently among populations and change over time.

Program fellows & advisors

Program Directors

HMB_BrettFinlay
B. Brett Finlay
Program Co-Director

Brett Finlay‘s research explores the interaction between pathogenic bacteria, such as Salmonella and E. Coli, and their host cells.

HMB_JanetRossant
Janet Rossant
Program Co-Director

Janet Rossant is an expert in stem cell research who studies the development of early mouse embryos to better understand human embryonic and stem cell development.

Fellows

HMB_EranElinav

Eran Elinav

  • Senior Fellow
  • Humans & the Microbiome
  • Weizmann Institute of Science
  • Israel
Bio Outline

Frédéric Keck

  • Fellow
  • Humans & the Microbiome
  • Musée du quai Branly
  • France
HMB_HendrikPoinar

Hendrik N. Poinar

  • Senior Fellow
  • Humans & the Microbiome
  • McMaster University
  • Canada
HMB_Karen-Guillemin

Karen Guillemin

  • Senior Fellow
  • Humans & the Microbiome
  • University of Oregon
  • United States
Bio Outline

Liping Zhao

  • Senior Fellow
  • Humans & the Microbiome
  • Shanghai Jiao Tong University
  • China
HMB_PhilippeGros

Philippe Gros

  • Trottier Fellow
  • Humans & the Microbiome
  • McGill University
  • Canada
HMB_PhilippeSansonetti

Philippe J. Santonetti

  • Senior Fellow
  • Humans & the Microbiome
  • Institut Pasteur Collège de France
  • France
HMB_SvenPettersson

Sven Pettersson

  • Senior Fellow
  • Humans & the Microbiome
  • Karolinska Institutet
  • Sweden
HMB_TamaraGilesVernick

Tamara Giles-Vernick

  • Senior Fellow
  • Humans & the Microbiome
  • Institut Pasteur
  • France
HMB_ThomasBosch

Thomas Bosch

  • Senior Fellow
  • Humans & the Microbiome
  • University of Kiel
  • Germany
HMB_TobiasRees

Tobias Rees

  • Fellow
  • Humans & the Microbiome
  • Berggruen Institute
  • Canada

Advisors

HMB_EricWieschaus

Eric Wieschaus

  • Advisor
  • Humans & the Microbiome
  • Princeton University
  • United States
HMB_MargaretMcFallNgai

Margaret J. McFall-Ngai

  • Advisory Committee Chair
  • Humans & the Microbiome
  • University of Hawaii at Manoa
  • United States
HMB_MargaretLock

Margaret Lock

  • Advisor
  • Humans & the Microbiome
  • McGill University
  • Canada
Bio Outline

Mark Nichter

  • Advisor
  • Humans & the Microbiome
  • University of Arizona
  • United States
HMB_MartinBlaser

Martin Blaser

  • Advisor
  • Humans & the Microbiome
  • New York University
  • United States

Melissa Melby

  • Advisor
  • Humans & the Microbiome
  • University of Delaware
  • United States
HMB_StanislavDuskoEhrlich

Stanislav Dusko Ehrlich

  • Advisor
  • Humans & the Microbiome
  • INRA
  • King's College London
  • United Kingdom

CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars

Jessica Metcalf

Jessica L. Metcalf

  • CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholar 2018
  • Humans & the Microbiome
  • Colorado State University
  • United States
NaamaGevaZatorsky_webbio

Naama Geva-Zatorsky

  • CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholar 2018
  • Humans & the Microbiome
  • Technion
  • Israel
HMB_CorinneMauriceScholar

Corinne Maurice

  • CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholar 2016
  • Humans & the Microbiome
  • McGill University
  • Canada
HMB_AlexanderKwarteng

Alexander Kwarteng

  • CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholar 2017
  • Humans & the Microbiome
  • Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology
  • Ghana
HMB_KatherineAmato

Katherine R. Amato

  • CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholar 2016
  • Humans & the Microbiome
  • Northwestern University
  • United States