The Distinct and Diverse Pakistani Microbiome

Promising microbiome-centric therapies have been developed and adopted in the West, but these therapies cannot automatically be applied to patients in other countries. There are significant differences between the diets and habits of people in the West and people in different parts of the world. The composition of the Pakistani microbiome, for example, remains largely unknown. We aim to change that.

In our research, we have been employing an interdisciplinary effort of metagenomics (the study of genetic material taken directly from environmental samples), modern methods of sequencing DNA and RNA, and bioinformatics (using software to better understand biological data) to characterize the gut and oral microbiota of several hundreds of Pakistani adults recruited from different regions of the country. This will help us better understand a variety of important components of the Pakistani microbiome, including:

  1. The influence of a sub-continental diet and social culture in microbiota selection and growth.
  2.  How the Pakistani microbiome differs from Western microbiomes.
  3. The differences in microbiome composition between healthy and diseased individuals.

As part of uBiome’s academic grant program, uBiome awarded us 864 microbiome kits and NGS services to carry out our research. The project is ongoing and in the initial phase, we have completed oral and gut microbiome sequencing of 40 “normal or healthy” Pakistanis recruited from all six major provinces and federal regions of the country. Each participant provided information on their drug, antibiotic, travel, and disease history prior to sample collection, as well as information about their social, cultural, and dietary habits. We are currently analyzing the results of the initial sequencing and, with uBiome’s assistance, are working on a manuscript for academic publication.

We have laid the groundwork for research beyond this study, as well. Our next projects encompass a variety of goals, including gut microbiome sequencing of obese Pakistani adults, gut microbiome sequencing of expatriates returning to Pakistan after staying in an industrialized country for over 12 months, and oral microbiome sequencing of adults using different mouth products. Ultimately, our goal is to better serve the Pakistani community, with a more complete and nuanced understanding of their health.

We also plan to work with nutrition biologists and health-care physicians to suggest dietary and environmental changes to improve the lifestyle and health of local populations. By adding Pakistani data for use in research, we will hopefully contribute to global microbiome initiatives.

Dr. Arshan Nasir, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biosciences at the COMSATS University in Islamabad. He previously completed PhD in Informatics from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (May 2015). His research is focused on pursuing and developing data-driven bioinformatics approaches to study the deep evolutionary relationships between viral lineages and cellular organisms. More recently, he has also become interested in taxonomic profiling of the human microbiota associated with various social, metabolic, and physiological states and generating an in-depth understanding of the horizontal genetic transfer (HGT) occurring between prokaryotes and eukaryotes. His research regularly involves undergraduate students, is highly collaborative in nature (with teams in Korea, France, and USA), and has been frequently covered by popular science media (e.g. Scientific American, Discover News, Cosmos, Science et Vie).