Investigations into the development and evolution of the gut microbiota
The human large intestine is home to the largest and most diverse group of bacteria in the human body. These bacteria play an important role in maintaining human health, fermenting plant fibres and other non-digestible carbohydrates, and releasing compounds that have direct or indirect benefits to human health.
We are interested in investigating the interactions between different bacterial groups, how populations and bacterial activities change through life, and how they respond to the availability of specific growth substrates.
Understanding the impact of specific dietary components on gut bacteria will help us to formulate health advice for the general population.
One main research area involves investigating the longitudinal development of the microbiota from birth in a group of infants. Specific techniques including DGGE, NGS and FISH are used to investigate the microbial composition while the activity of the microbiota is established using SCFA analysis and metabolite profiling.
Another key research area is investigating the health benefits that can be derived from increased consumption of oats and barley. The impact of these dietary components are assessed in vitro using bacterial mono- and co-culture, aswell as using mixed batch culture and fermentor systems. Human studies have also been done to ascertain the effects in vivo.
Finally my group is involved in investigating the incidence, evolution and transferability of specific antibiotic resistance genes between anaerobic gut bacteria. These resistance genes are also useful genetic markers to investigate gene function in key gut anaerobes, and to perfrom genetic manipulation experiments.
1. Assessing the prevalence and evolution of antibiotic resistance genes in bacteria resident in the gut, and entering from the food chain
2. Effect of different cereals as dietary components on the gut microbiota.
3. Manipulation of anaerobic gut bacteria
4. Development of the microbiota (composition and function) from birth,
Through the RESAS work I collaborate with scientists at JHI (Kelly Houston, Nicola Holden), the Moredun (Eleanor Watson), SRUC (Judith Evans) and UHI (Peter Martin).
I also collaborate on various projects with other scientists from different Universities who have mutual interests in the activity of the gut microbiota, or in the prevalence and spread of antibiotic resistance genes.
Research Funding and Grants
- Scottish Government funded HEI Partnership grant - A systems wide approach to the control of Campyobacter in the food chain (focussing on the presence of antibiotic resistance genes)
- Scottish Government theme funding for RI
- Commercial funding from Vogel to investigate the effect of a specific prebiotic on gut health
- Commercial funding to perform anaerobic bacterial isolations