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MIT Microbiome Bacterial Bonanza

As a microbiology major in college, I was always fascinated by microbes and its mechanism of pathogenicity. Did you know that our gut contains tens of trillions of microbes, including at least 1000 different species of known bacteria with more than 3 million genes (150 times more than human genes), and can weigh up to 2 kg!? When we hear the word microbes or bacteria, we have this immediate notion of a disease causing agent- which in some ways are true. However, did you know that microorganisms present in our gut play a crucial role in digestive health, and also influence the immune system? Immune tissues in the gastrointestinal tract constitute the largest and most complex fraction of the human immune system! So they really aren’t so bad after all!

With my excitement in microbes, I recently attended an event hosted by MIT Microbiome club and MIT museum called Bacterial Bonanza. It was incredible and my friend Tony came with me as well! He was a trooper for coming when it was pouring outside. Anyways- short talks from six Microbiome experts spoke on a range of topics- from the cheese microbiome to the latest clinical microbiome research. I think the most interesting talk was “Do these Bacteria Make Me Look Fat” presented by Dr. Jason Zhang and Dr. Nirav Desai. Their hypothesis in targeting certain microbes in our guts to prevent child obesity was fascinating. The idea behind their reasoning is that they believe certain microbes in our guts are signaling our hypothalamus to excessive eating which causes obesity. The way our stomach hunger cycle works, in a nutshell, begins with a hormone called ghrelin. When our bodies have burned up the food in our stomachs and our blood sugar and insulin levels begin to drop, ghrelin communicates with the hypothalamus in the brain. The hypothalamus, housed in the deep center portion of our brain cavity, regulates our basic body functions such as thirst, sleep and sex drive. Once it receives the message, delivered by ghrelin, that we need to eat something to keep our bodies running, the hypothalamus triggers the release of neuropeptide Y, which stimulates our appetites.

Left: Dr. Jason Zhang and Right: Dr. Nirav Desai

Another cool talk was “The Gut Microbiome: A Target for Ecobiotic Drugs.” This talk was especially interesting to me because I was able to use my knowledge from work in clinical research to understand the presentation! Seres Therapeutics is a biopharmaceutical company that is using a microbiome therapeutics platform to develop a new class of medicines to treat diseases resulting from functional deficiencies in the microbiome, a condition known as dysbiosis. These therapeutics are ecological compositions made up of beneficial organisms that are designed to target functional deficiencies and reestablish keystone features of a healthy microbiome. Imagine healthy feces in a pill! So awesome! Definitely looking forward to the next one!

Presentations:

The Policy and Politics of Poop

Carolyn Edelstein – Director of Policy and Global Partnerships, OpenBiome

What the Microbiomes of Corals and Whales Can Tell us About Animal Health and Ecology

Dr. Amy Apprill – Assistant Scientist, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Delicious Rot: Cheese Microbiomes

Dr. Benjamin Wolfe – Assistant Professor, Tufts University

Do These Bacteria Make Me Look Fat?

Dr. Jason Zhang – Boston Children’s Hospital

Dr. Nirav Desai – Medical Director, Boston Children’s Hospital, Bariatric Surgery Program

The Gut Microbiome: A Target for Ecobiotic Drugs

Julie Button – Seres Therapeutics

To end my post, I wanted to share one more picture!

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Xoxo- Stay curious, Keep learning!

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