Microbial networks of the infant gut

Gut bacteria are associated with your health from the start of your life. Their ecological niche and microbial interactions are studied during breast milk diet, focussing on nitrogen circulation.

Introduction: Microbial gut ecology at infancy: prebiotics & probiotics

Our gut holds a large number of bacterial species that contribute to our health and wellbeing. They, for example, help us with digestion and protect us from invading pathogens. From birth, a highly dynamic process makes microbes settle in your gut. The microbiota composition is determined by many factors, including diet. The pre-weaning period (when the infant solely receives breast milk) provides us with an excellent chance to study the effect of diet on the gut microbiome. Recent research has identified prebiotic compounds in the breast milk (compounds that selectively promote bacteria, probiotics, that confer host benefits). We aim to find currently overlooked human milk compounds are responsible for promoting the “breastfed microbiota”.

Metabolic networks & research questions

It is crowded in the gut, many bacterial species compete over dietary resources, your resources and each other’s resources. They are linked to each other in metabolic networks from which we can profit. This project is focussed on microbial networks of the infant gut. We aim to get insight in how human milk derived components like amino acids and vitamins influence the microbiota composition. Instead of looking at the whole community, this study will investigate basic interactions that shape the community. How do microbes work together and how do they confer a benefit to the infant?

Student projects & Techniques

Are you interested in doing a BSc, MSc or internship project on this topic? Are you interested in microbial ecology and community interactions within the gut? Do you like microbial interactions and are you fascinated by ecological microbe niche and function? If this applies to you: Send me a message (email or phone), with a short introduction, motivation and perhaps even some first ideas or plans.

Fermentation culture studies will provide us with data on metabolism of the early life microbes. Depending on the project, you can practice experimental design, molecular methods (DNA/RNA extractions, PCR, qPCR), sequencing, (anaerobic) culturing and biochemical culture analysis (for example HPLC). We can even discuss setting up model gut microbiomes and study them with ‘omics’ approaches. You can be involved in data analysis of available metagenome datasets as well.