Researchers propose creation of global microbiota vault

Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello, PhD, a research professor at New York University's Department of Medicine, witnessed many of her colleagues lose microbiota samples — some of which took years to collect — when Hurricane Sandy hit New York City in October of 2012, causing massive power outages. Now, Dr. Dominguez-Bello is part of a team on a quest to build a freezer vault to safely store these microbiota samples, according to NPR.

Here are five things to know:

1. Dr. Dominguez-Bello and her team seek to collect and store microbiota collected by scientists worldwide in a single, safe location, according to a project proposal published Oct. 4 in Science.

2. Microbiota, which colonize the human body, help regulate health. A lack of microbiota diversity is often associated with immune disease deficiencies such as diabetes, asthma and allergies.

"Immune systems are educated by bacteria," Dr. Dominguez-Bello, lead author of the project proposal, told NPR.

3. The increased use of antibiotics, diet changes and clustered living environments all diminish microbiota diversity. Stockpiling these "beneficial germs" would promote germ diversity and allow researchers to study "good germs from remote communities that have had limited contact with modern medicine," according to NPR. Researchers could use this knowledge to produce more effective probiotics to introduce back into the human body.

4. Researchers would use the vault to safely store back-up copies of their own samples. The vault would function like a bank, where people can only withdraw what they have deposited.

5. Proposed locations for the vault include Norway and Switzerland, due to the lower temperatures of each country. In the case of a power outage, the samples would thaw slower than in the U.S.

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