Jeroen Raes

“Systems-level analysis of the human microbiome in health and disease”

Jeroen Raes was born in 1976 in Belgium. After his masters in Biochemistry (UA, 1998) and masters in Bioinformatics (FUNDP, 2001) he did his PhD in bioinformatics and comparative genomics in the lab of Pierre Rouze and Yves Van de Peer (VIB-PSB, UGent), focusing on the role of gene and genome duplication in evolution and the birth of novel gene functions. After an IWT postdoc with CropDesign on the identification of novel yield target genes, he moved to the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany, for a postdoc in the lab of Peer Bork on computational analysis of environmental sequence data (metagenomics), where he was later promoted to scientist, focusing on the integration of heterogenous environmental ‘omics’ data. Jeroen Raes is a very productive young researcher with several high ranked publications. Computational metagenomics is a field that is growingextremely fast in Europe, but also in the US and Asia.

The bioinformatic methods that wil be used in this project are new, original and groundbraking for studying human microbiota and just such move that is needed for successful research of this area.

The functioning of the human body constitutes a complex interplay of human processes and ‘services’ rendered to us by the 1000 trillion microbial cells we carry. Disruption of this natural microbial flora is linked to infection, autoimmune diseases and cancer, but detailed knowledge about our microbial component remains scarce. Recent technological advances such as metagenomics and next-generation sequencing permit, for the first time, to study the various microbiota of the human body at a previously unseen scale. These advances have allowed the initiation of the International Human Microbiome Project, aiming at genomically characterizing the totality of human-associated microorganisms (the “microbiome”).

However, the complexity of metagenomic datasets makes their analysis a major bottleneck. This allowed the birth of a new, exciting subfield in computational biology which will eventually permit classical, cellular level systems biology progress towards modeling of entire communities (“eco-systems biology”), and untangling interspecies networks of competition, collaboration and communication at the molecular level.

Raes will combine large-scale, next-generation sequencing with novel computational approaches to investigate the functioning and variability of the healthy human microbiome at the systems level and investigate the role of host properties on the native flora. In addition, he will study the microbiota dysbiosis in inflammatory barrier diseases to further understand the microbial component in disease onset and progression. This approach will hopefully allow the development of novel treatments and the discovery of predictive and/or diagnostic markers.