Date of Award

Spring 4-30-2013

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Science

Department

Biology

First Advisor

Giri Narasimhan

Second Advisor

Kalai Mathee

Third Advisor

DeEtta Kay Mills

Abstract

Metagenomics is the culture-independent study of genetic material obtained directly from environmental samples. It has become a realistic approach to understanding microbial communities thanks to advances in high-throughput DNA sequencing technologies over the past decade. Current research has shown that different sites of the human body house varied bacterial communities. There is a strong correlation between an individual’s microbial community profile at a given site and disease. Metagenomics is being applied more often as a means of comparing microbial profiles in biomedical studies. The analysis of the data collected using metagenomics can be quite challenging and there exist a plethora of tools for interpreting the results. An automatic analytical workflow for metagenomic analyses has been implemented and tested using synthetic datasets of varying quality. It is able to accurately classify bacteria by taxa and correctly estimate the richness and diversity of each set. The workflow was then applied to the study of the airways microbiome in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). COPD is a progressive lung disease resulting in narrowing of the airways and restricted airflow. Despite being the third leading cause of death in the United States, little is known about the differences in the lung microbial community profiles of healthy individuals and COPD patients. Bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) samples were collected from COPD patients, active or ex-smokers, and never smokers and sequenced by 454 pyrosequencing. A total of 56 individuals were recruited for the study. Substantial colonization of the lungs was found in all subjects and differentially abundant genera in each group were identified. These discoveries are promising and may further our understanding of how the structure of the lung microbiome is modified as COPD progresses. It is also anticipated that the results will eventually lead to improved treatments for COPD.

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