Dr. Mihai Pop is professor at the University of Maryland, in the Department of Computer Science and the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology. Dr. Pop was part of a Research team that studied the causes of Diarrheal in developing nations across the world. Dr. Pop discussed his research and its implications.
Diarrheal kills 800,000 people per year, which is more than HIV, Malaria, and Measles Combined. Diarrheal can be caused by a virus, bacteria, and eukaryotic pathogens. Mostly the symptom occurs in places where poor infrastructure leads to unsanitary water.
The group that Dr. Pop worked with, Global Enteric Multicellular Study, wanted to compare the stool of children, in developing nations, that had Diarrheal, with children that lived in the same area. Their goal was to try to figure out which pathogens caused diarrheal.
The researchers went to Gambia, Mali, Kenya, and Bangladesh, found children with diarrheal, and sampled their stool. While they could identify the symptom causing pathogen about half the time, there were many cases in which they could not. According to Dr. Pop, their biggest issue with simply testing for what they knew caused diarrheal was that the pathogens that they were testing for were known causes of Diarrheal in the developed world. Most of our knowledge about medicine is from the Western World, and sometimes the developing world react differently to different pathogens.
In order to blindly test everything in the stool, and then compare those pathogens with other samples, in order to definitively find out what exactly causes the Diarrheal, they would need to acquire mountains of information. The issue with this, is that with so much information, they needed a way for their computers to analyze the information.
Dr. Pop described his solution to analyzing the data by using target gene sequencing, in order to find out what DNA sequences correlate with children with the symptoms. They then use DNA clustering to compare those sequences with others in the stool.
What they found was very interesting. Instead of diarrheal being caused simply by having a certain pathogen in your body, the different bacteria interacts with each other and impacts each other. Some bacteria impedes the growth of other bacteria, so in some cases having two kinds of bacteria ,at the same time, that cause diarrheal can actually lead to a lower chance of getting the symptoms than had you only had one strand. This could lead to interesting future studies that might find that diarrheal prevention techniques might come in the form of infecting someone with a manageable bacteria that prevents the growth of other Diarrheal causing bacteria.
Overall I thought that this was an effective presentation and an interesting research study. The fact that bacteria could be used to prevent the growth of other Diarrheal causing bacteria is a very important step for researchers to being trying to find ways to prevent the symptom. Their techniques for correlating the DNA sequences were also very innovative.
My Only Critique of the study was that there were a few things that the researchers did not really take into account. While the researchers used the DNA sequences of pathogens in the stool and used them to correlate it with whether or not the kid had diarrheal, the researchers failed to take into account the fact that some people react to the same pathogen in different ways. What may give one child Diarrheal might have no effect on another child. This could potentially skew the results of the study.
On a final note, Dr. Pop had mentioned that a possible cause as to why the developing world react differently to bacteria compared with the developed world. His hypothesis is that the high presence of animals in close proximity to where people are living could be the cause. I think this is a very interesting theory, but I think he would need to properly test this before making a definitive statement.