The human body is colonized by trillions of microorganisms that exert a profound influence on human biology, in part by providing functional capabilities that extend beyond those of host cells. In particular, there is growing evidence linking chemical processes carried out by the microbial inhabitants of the gastrointestinal tract to both health and disease. However, we still do not understand the vast majority of the molecular mechanisms underlying this phenomenon. A major reason for this knowledge gap is the difficulty linking functions associated with the human gut microbiota to specific microbial enzymes. This talk will discuss my lab’s efforts to discover, characterize, and manipulate new gut microbial enzymes and metabolic pathways, including transformations that produce disease-associated microbial metabolites. Gaining a molecular understanding of gut microbial enzymes will not only enhance our ability to identify the genes encoding metabolic activities in microbiome sequencing data, but will also help to elucidate the mechanisms by which these organisms affect human biology. Ultimately, this work should enable efforts to treat and prevent disease by manipulating gut microbial metabolism.
Speaker: Emily Balskus, UC Berkeley
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