A First-Person Account of the Microbiome Revolution

A First-Person Account of the Microbiome Revolution
Segmented filamentous bacteria (SFB) in the terminal ileum of an
8-week-old Taconic B6 mouse
In a new commentary article in Cell Host & Microbe, Ivaylo Ivanov provides a first-person account of the discovery that microbiota composition affects immune system development and response. Ten years after the first studies showing that development of Th17 cells were regulated by the microbiome, Ivanov details how those discoveries were made.

As with so many key findings, this one contained an element of chance. He was set to publish a result that would have been erroneous, but a last minute decision to try a different control completely changed the outcome of the experiment and led him towards the real story: that some element of the microbiome — later determined to be Segmented Filamentous Bacteria (SFB) — induced the development of Th17 T cells. Variations in microbiota between commercial animal vendors (Taconic and the Jackson Laboratory) played a key role in these experiments.

“I will always remember running samples in the middle of the night in a ghost-like Chapel Hill campus, the weekend before Christmas. It paid off...”
— Ivaylo Ivanov
What a difference ten years have made! Ivanov details the difficulty of working with germ-free mice in 2006, due to the lack of appropriate facilities at that time. Now, many academic institutions have opened germ-free facilities, and the idea that the microbiome affects immune function is commonly accepted. His commentary article is a fascinating window into a pivotal time in immunology research.
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