How microbial community structure is shaped
Microbes profoundly influence biological systems. Owing to their small individual size, but extremely large populations, their influence is typically an emergent property of the microbial community. As such understanding how microbial community structure is shaped is a generic question relevant to almost all biological systems.
A major focus of my research is the interplay between diet, gut microbiota and health. Our health is the product of interplay between many different factors with arguably three of the most important being adequate nutrition, homeostatic regulation and exclusion of foreign cells. Gut functions influence all these, but occur in the immediate proximity of a huge community of microorganisms – our gut microbiome. The gut microbiome profoundly effects our health via its contribution to and influence on gut functions.
Arguably the most significant aspect of our gut microbiome is that differences in composition matter. The contribution of our microbiome to nutrition, metabolism, gut and immune functions varies from person-to-person. Thus the clinical manifestation of many diseases will be influenced by the individual’s microbiome. Secondly, environmental or lifestyle differences such as diet and hygiene may modulate microbiome composition and thus its influence on health. This gives rise to two basic opportunities for improving healthcare. These are, using the microbiome as a metric to improve diagnosis and targeting the microbiome for therapeutic intervention. We are specifically exploring forces that shape microbial community structure in mouse and human models of with a view to developing diagnostic and intervention strategies across a range of health issues.