The traditional “one microbe, one disease” view is being reimagined, as it becomes increasingly clear that thousands of bacterial species inhabit different anatomic regions of a healthy human body. Perturbation of this complex bacterial fingerprint, called the microbiome, can lead to disease.
Rapid shifts in microbial diversity and abundance within the human vagina often correlate with development of bacterial vaginosis (BV), a condition associated with discharge and increased STI risk. Yet, dramatic changes in microbial levels also sometimes occur following intercourse and menses, without necessarily leading to BV. We are studying the bacterial population dynamics of BV in order to correlate measures of species diversity and abundance with development of BV. Since microbial shifts occur within hours, we are using detailed study protocols in conjunction with mathematical modeling to assess whether key nutrients allow certain species to outcompete others, and to identify which species are critical for altering and maintaining bacterial composition. This information may inform development of more strategic approaches towards treating BV.