Senior Research Fellow
The microbial community in the human large intestine consists of a diverse range of bacteria that break down complex nutrients of dietary and host origin. The members of this ecosystem form a complex metabolic network in which the product of one group can serve as substrate for another group. Overall, this leads to the accumulation of mainly three organic acids, acetate, propionate and butyrate, which are partially absorbed by the colon and serve as an additional energy source for the human host. Butyrate is of special interest, as it serves as the preferred energy source for the colonic wall and thus contributes to the proper functioning of the gut. It has also been claimed to be protective against colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease through effects on host gene expression and cellular development of the colon. Propionate also influences host physiology and its potential effects on host satiety is of particular interest in view of the current obesity epidemic.
Dietary intakes can influence the microbial gut community and shift the balance between different functional bacterial groups, with potential consequences for host health. Our research concentrates on the microbial metabolism of dietary non-digestible carbohydrates, with a particular emphasis on short-chain fatty acid production. We utilise are wide range of technical approaches, including strictly anaerobic microbiology of pure strains and mixed microbial consortia, molecular microbial community analysis of in vitro and human dietary studies, -omics technologies, enzymology and mathematical modelling.