Did our parents have the right idea when they told us to eat more fruits and vegetables? Maybe so! Evidence has begun to build that the foods we eat (including the natural compounds in fruits and veggies), the flora in our digestive systems, and our basic biological functions all intersect to influence our overall health. Recently, NCCIH released a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), Biological Signatures of Diet-Derived Microbial Metabolites, for projects to study several aspects of this question.
There is ample evidence that dietary constituents interact with the gut microbiome to produce metabolites with biological activity. A metabolite is a substance made or used when the body breaks down food, drugs, chemicals, or its own tissue; this process of metabolism makes energy and the materials needed for growth, reproduction, and maintaining health, and helps to eliminate toxic substances.
Under the FOA, we seek to systematically identify the metabolites in the diet-microbiome interaction, the bacteria that produce them, and their related biological activities. Those activities could be, for example, anti-anxiety, antidepressant, and/or anti-inflammatory in nature.
As the FOA’s lead scientific contact, I have a few suggestions and clarifications to offer to scientists who may be interested in applying:
- I strongly urge all potential applicants to study the FOA’s entire text, which details specifically what NCCIH is and is not interested in.
- The announcement is not intended for projects with a sole focus on how diet alters the microbiome.
- Although there are many ways to study the diet-microbiome relationship, this FOA’s emphasis is on finding ways in which they intersect to produce unique metabolites. Amino acids, for example, would not qualify.
- Diet, microbiome, metabolites, and biological activity are all pillars that must be present in any project.
- NCCIH is especially interested in novel metabolites, but this is not required. An existing (already identified) metabolite could be studied, but it must be produced through the diet-microbiome interaction.
- Proposed human studies under this FOA cannot be designed to measure the efficacy of an intervention they must be mechanistic.
- The opportunity is not for projects that seek to engineer probiotics or otherwise alter artificially the microbiome’s metabolic functions.
If this opportunity fits with your interest and expertise, I hope you’ll consider applying. Please contact me as a first step if you have questions or want to apply, at firstname.lastname@example.org. We have found that early contact with the appropriate program director for an FOA is preferable, rather than an applicant taking the risk of preparing a submission that turns out to be unresponsive.