Human Microbiome Project

Event Date: 
Wednesday, October 30, 2013 - 19:00 - 20:00

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. 

Event Date: 
Wednesday, April 24, 2013 - 19:15 - 20:00
University of Technology Sydney

Observing the developing infant gut microbiome with time-series metagenomics.


The human body plays host to a complex microbial ecosystem, the
development of which begins around the time of birth. Routine monitoring
of the development of microbial ecosystems in newborns (or other
environments) using metagenomic methods is currently extremely
challenging and expensive. I will describe some recent technological
advances that could enable routine sequencing and computational analysis
of hundreds of metagenomes, and demonstrate their application on samples
taken from a developing infant gut microbiome. In this study forty-five
samples were subjected to transposon-catalyzed Illumina library prep and
metagenomic sequencing on a HiSeq 2000 instrument. The resulting data
was subjected to analysis of microbial community structure using a new
approach called phylogenetic Edge Principal Component Analysis (Edge
PCA) that can identify which lineages in a phylogeny explain the
greatest degree of variation among the samples. We also investigate the
population genomics of Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron, one of the dominant
members of the gut microbial community.

Event Date: 
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 - 18:30 - 19:00
University of Queensland

The Big Picture: lessons from a rapidly expanding genomic tree of life.


Most microorganisms cannot be grown in pure culture (or at least not easily). This has been apparent for decades by comparing the number of cells seen under a microscope to the fraction of those cells that will grow into colony forming units (typically <1%). The advent of culture-independent rRNA-based molecular surveys pioneered by Norman Pace put our degree of ignorance of the microbial world into perspective: dozens of major microbial lineages have emerged over the last 20 years that lack even a single cultured representative. New approaches, such as deep metagenomics and single cell genomics, are now transforming the rRNA-based phylogenetic outlines of the tree of life into a fully fledged genome-based view of the tree. I will present a snapshot overview of the genome tree of the bacterial and archaeal domains and examples of functional insights in the context of a more complete view of microbial evolution.

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