I'm really thankful to have been hosted today at Vanderbilt University by Dr. Mariana Byndloss and all her wonderful lab colleagues. The BYNDLOSS LAB is mainly addressing three questions:
1. How does the microbial imbalance induced by high-fat diets promote increased risk for heart disease?
2. How does antibiotic exposure early in life contribute to prolonged gut microbial imbalance and increased risk of weight gain?
3. Can we prevent the "bloom" of colon cancer associated bacteria?
Additionally, Andy Brooks showed me around his lab, led by Dr. Seth Bordenstein, Director of the Vanderbilt Microbiome Initiative. The BORDENSTEIN LAB focuses on the following inquiries:
1. What is the impact of ethnicity and diet on human microbiome variation and health disparities?
2. How might the global presence of a bacteria called Wolbachia that infects most insects represent a major mosquito control strategy?
3. How do animals form mutually beneficial relationships with microbial communities?
4. How did life progress from one species to many millions, and do microbes impact the origin of new animal species?
5. What is the future of science education for high schools, colleges, and citizen scientists (like members of halfhuman.org), and how can local communities participate in discovery-based research to learn biology and hands-on biotechnology?
I owe both Dr. Byndloss and Andy big-time for allowing me to intrude on their workdays!
Dr. Byndloss (red) and colleagues
Dr. Rob Knight and me
Morning registration duties
Drs. Lita Proctor, Rob Knight, Jonathan Eisen, and Linda Brubaker in a final discussion panel called "Breaking the Glass Ceiling: How Do We Solve the Gender Imbalance in STEM?"
Today marks the final day of my west coast excursion! After enjoying my brief experience here helping with the first CMI International Microbiome Meeting, I'm leaving Cali with an even deeper respect and amazement for all that lies unseen by the naked eye. Many thanks to Dr. Rob Knight and all the organizers for two days of fascinating talks with titles ranging from "The Role of the Microbiome in Inflammatory Bowel Disease" to "Whale Microbiomes: Insights from Skin, Blow, and Guts and Potential Use in Health Monitoring."
The experience was made all the more interesting by the fact that all 27 speakers were female, an obviously intentional decision designed to shine light on the problem of gender imbalance at scientific conferences. This generated considerable attention, including an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal referenced here.
While I choose to leave discussions of gender inequality in science to those more informed than I, it's fair to say that a major takeaway from my personal conference experience is that a lack of diversity can be associated with significant pathology,--whether it's in the "micro" context of an inflammatory bowel disease microbiome or the "macro" context of gender representation!
All in all, I'm so very grateful for the opportunity to listen, learn, and hopefully help a little bit, and I'm excited to be returning this summer to work in the Knight Lab in microbiome research!
Dr. Jim Sones, who has just retired as Chief of the Division of Digestive Diseases at University of Mississippi Medical Center recently joined our efforts at halfhuman.org! He will be speaking at Jackson Prep's recently formed Biomedical Club this week and was nice enough to send me the following link to a New York Times article which, while a few years old, serves as a very nice introduction to the human microbiome. Enjoy!
So sugar may cause issues for some of our beneficial gut bugs...so let's load up on the Equal and Splenda! Right? Alas, maybe not. Perhaps humans just aren't intended to indulge in anything sweet (sob!). Read more here.
Sugars may taste good, but, as this article from NOVA points out, they can also halt the production of proteins that encourage the growth of "good" gut microbes.
Dr. Knight gave this TED Talk a few years ago (2014), but it provides a very nice intro and overview to everything we are about here.
Click this link.
As I've stated elsewhere, my interest in the human microbiome became much more personal when I began to consider the potential for improving human existence. Specifically, I learned about the potential role that our "gut bugs" may play in neurologic conditions such as Parkinson's Disease, which my grandfather has. This first came to my attention in the video below, which recently appeared on PBS's Nova series. It's a nice introduction to the microbiome, as it's presented in everyday language that the non-scientist can understand. Click this link: What's Living In You?
I highly recommend it!
Clearly, simply talking about fecal virtues with a straight face is not enough. We must all continue to advance the limits of our understanding, whether "we" is leading microbiome scientist Dr. Rob Knight or high school student Jimmy Underwood.
I contacted Dr. Knight's American Gut project last year to express my interest in all things "microbiome." They graciously gave me detailed advice, recommending that I read Ed Yong's bestseller I Contain Multitudes (amazing read) and that I further advance my knowledge in any manner possible. To this end, I spent Summer 2018 taking a course at Brown University called "Me, Myself, and My Microbiome" and was honored to participate in the Biological and Biomedical Science session of the Yale Young Global Scholars program. The Knight Lab additionally informed me of the integral role of computers in mapping the massive amounts of data involved in identifying all of the billions of microbe species living within us. For this reason, I am currently trudging through a computer programming elective in school this year.
All this recent experience is what brings me to halfhuman.org. Dr. Knight's AmericanGut.org initiative, "one of the largest crowd-sourced, citizen science projects in the country," has agreed to assist our members in identifying our members' individual microbes. We are starting a "Microbiome Club" at Jackson Preparatory School to advance the cause and will welcome any other individuals who wish to participate. Having hopefully laid an adequate foundation, my own personal goal is to spend Summer 2019 in an established lab that is doing exciting research in this frontier of medicine and science.
October 3, 2018