similar but not identical habitats or focal questions. All, however, could benefit from some common infrastructure—most notably metagenomics databases and new analysis tools but also new sampling strategies and data standards, to name the most obvious.

As a first step in addressing how human metagenomics studies might be approached on an international scale, a panel of 75 participants (scientists, physicians, industry representatives, and administrators from funding agencies) from Asia, the Americas, and Europe met in Paris in October 2005 to discuss the feasibility of sequencing the human intestinal metagenome, its importance for human health and industry, possible technical approaches, and possible funding scenarios.2 The meeting generated a framework for an International Human Gut Metagenome Initiative, including recommendations to generate reference genome sequence data from approximately 1000 gut bacterial species that can be cultured, to develop techniques for sequencing microorganisms that cannot be cultured, and to classify genes of the microbial community based on metagenomic sequencing. Since this meeting in the fall of 2005, a trans-institute NIH committee has been assembled to discuss in more detail its participation in an international human metagenome project. The recent call for proposals under the European Union 7th Framework Programme includes the characterization and variability of the microbial communities in the human body as one of its areas of focus.

International coordination would help to ensure greater efficiency and less duplication of effort, but it should not restrict creativity or the national interests of any country. Besides helping to plan and develop common infrastructure, international coordination would ensure wide communication of ongoing projects and results so that new projects were not undertaken without knowledge of the global landscape. Furthermore, if a few major metagenomics projects are to be undertaken comprehensively and in great depth, they will be more successful if the breadth and resources of the international science and engineering communities are exploited.

The initiation of international coordination is best left to the interested scientific communities—particularly interested scientists and their societies—in communication with national funding agencies. As noted above, the organizational model of the Arabidopsis project is useful.


Metagenomics will draw on expertise from many disciplines and individuals:

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