Next Generation Sequencing and Athletics

It is unusual to see those two topics merging into one title. What’s the common ground, you ask? Bacteria. Next generation sequencing has become a revolutionizing tool in the knowledge and use of microbiomes. One such example is an idea by Jonathan Sheiman Ph.D., a former postdoctoral fellow at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, which was brought to George Church, Wyss Institute Core Faculty member, to see if bacterial gut flora of elite athletes affects their physical performance. They recruited a cohort of Boston marathon runners for the study and sampled them every day the week before and after the marathon. Once the sample retrieval of the athletes was complete, the sample processing began with DNA extraction, leading into 16s PCR amplification of the V4 variable region which then underwent sequencing on Illumina’s MiSeq or HiSeq 2500 platforms. After sequencing, the data from the samples underwent bioinformatic analysis to discover down to the genus level, the community of bacteria residing in each individual’s microbiome. The human gut flora houses vast complex communities of microorganisms that affect human health with the capability of adapting to the host’s lifestyle.

The researchers found that the runners had an increased level of bacteria from the Veillonella genus after completing the marathon.

“In our identification of V. atypica as a performance-enhancing bacterium, we performed a controlled longitudinal study in elite marathon runners, monitoring the composition of their microbiomes before and after the race by fingerprinting commensal bacteria with next-generation sequencing technology,” said Scheiman.

 It turns out that a strain of Veillonella atypica is a great lactate metabolizer, converting it to propionate. In this metabolic process Veillonella atypica deoxygenizes the lactate releasing the oxygen to prolong athletic performance. Full effects of propionate on the body require additional research. To further solidify their findings, mice were subject to inoculation of Veillonella atypica strain and showed a significant increase in exhaustive treadmill run time.

With this discovery, Sheiman’s team is striving to custom design probiotics based on elite athletes’ gut microbiomes that would enhance athletic performance as well as promoting health and wellness to the general public. They also want to expand their research of this finding by looking into different disciplines of athletic performance such as strength and speed. This study wonderfully illustrates how Next Generation Sequencing is continuing to revolutionize academic research serving as an indispensable tool to great minds of discovery.