How do changing environmental factors shift microbiota to alter animal fitness?

The gut microbiome can be shaped by both environmental factors as well as its host’s evolutionary history. Factors such as changing diets and/or environments can alter microbiota, sometimes leading to negative outcomes. However, we lack a fundamental understanding of how microbes and their functions change over time and between generations and how these changes affects hosts. Exploring symbiotic relationships like these is critical to elucidate mechanisms of adaptation surrounding host-symbiont homeostasis.

How do microbiomes respond to environmental chemical exposure?

Since environmental chemicals interface with microbiota within the gut, they can directly target microbiota leading to systemic effects, but microbiota can also influence environmental chemical severity through chemical transformations. One gap in our knowledge is whether microbiota may mitigate the effects of environmental chemical exposure. To better understand the role gut microbiota play in regulating the endocrine system, I integrate multiple disciplines to examine interactions between microbiota and environmental chemicals and their potential to affect endocrine function, a critical step in determining which microbiota are targeted and/or which ones may offer mitigation potential.

Can microbes be used to treat or prevent disease?

Microbial biotherapeutics are revolutionizing medicine, and their use is expanding. Microbes have been linked to multiple disease states and have also been used as treatment in humans and other animals, such as whole microbiome transfaunation or fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT), to individual microbiota, like probiotics, or microbially-derived molecules. Despite their success in improving health outcomes in some cases, the mechanisms that modulate the efficacy of such treatments remain poorly understood. My work aims to develop microbially-derived therapies while conserving diversity across multiple ecological scales, as macro-organisms will benefit from the conservation of the diverse microorganisms and metabolites that coexist with them.

What can chemical profiles tell us about animal physiology and health status?

Mass spectrometry is a powerful tool. Chemical profiling of different biospecimens gives insight into animals at the individual and population level. Our work using both targeted and untargeted mass spectrometry provides dietary readouts, connects host phenotypes to microbial metabolism, as well as identifies individuals and their reproductive state using chemical profiling.