Researcher Speaks on New Roles Found for Microbiota of the Human Body

David A. Relman


In recent years, research has revealed intriguing and important roles for the innumerable nonhuman species living in and on the human body. In recognition of these discoveries, David A. Relman, MD, will deliver a state-of-the-art lecture on “Diversity, Stability, and Function in the Human Microbiome” on Nov. 9.

Dr. Relman is the Thomas C. and Joan M. Merigan Professor in the department of medicine and the department of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University. He is also chief of infectious diseases at the Veterans Administration Palo Alto Health Care System in Palo Alto, Calif.

Dr. Relman’s research focus is the indigenous human microbiome, and in particular, the nature and mechanisms of variation in microbial diversity within the human body as a function of time and space as well as in response to perturbations, such as exposure to antibiotics. He was one of the first researchers to employ modern molecular methods in this study and provided the first in-depth, sequence-based analyses of the microbial community in humans. His work includes studies of most major human microbial habitats.

Dr. Relman’s research has also included the discovery of pathogens and the development of new strategies for identifying previously unrecognized microbial disease agents. One of his publications was cited by the American Society for Microbiology as one of the 50 most important microbiology papers of the 20th century.

Dr. Relman has served as an adviser to the U.S. government on microbiology, host-microbe interactions, emerging infectious diseases, and biosecurity. He co-chaired a widely cited 2006 study by the National Academies of Sciences (NAS) on “Globalization, Biosecurity, and the Future of the Life Sciences” and served as vice chair of a 2011 NAS study of the science underlying the FBI investigation of the 2001 anthrax mailings.

He currently serves as a member of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, chair of the Forum on Microbial Threats at the Institute of Medicine, and president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. He received a National Institutes of Health director’s Pioneer Award in 2006 and was elected a member of the Institute of Medicine in 2011.

Dr. Relman received an undergraduate degree from MIT and an MD from Harvard Medical School. He completed his clinical training in internal medicine and infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, served as a postdoctoral fellow in microbiology at Stanford University, and joined the Stanford faculty in 1994.

October-November 2013 (Vol. 5, Number 10 & 11)