Though it might have a lower profile than the Human Genome Project that preceded it, the Human Microbiome Project, funded by the U.S. government, could have equally important implications, Britain's Daily Telegraph reported Tuesday.
The bacteria and microbes that live in and on human bodies play a vastly important role in human health.
The gastrointestinal tract alone is home to more than 10 trillion bacteria that make essential amino acids and vitamins, help regulate the immune system and break down starches and proteins.
When it comes to understanding how man and bacteria interact, scientists are often at a loss.
The Microbiome project will attempt sequencing the genomes -- the genetic content -- of the 900 or so species of microbes that scientists have so far been able to culture in the laboratory.
Researchers say they hope to determine whether humans share a core microbial genome, or "microbiome," and identify the ways in which changes in the microbiome correlate with human health and disease.
Millions of years of evolution have seen man and microbe come to depend on each other to a remarkable degree, Prof. George Weinstock, a geneticist at Washington University in St Louis, says.
"We should no longer think of these organisms in isolation," Weinstock says. "They're more like additional organs of our bodies."
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