Investigator: Colleen O’Loughlin, Ph.D., Bates College
The human body is covered in trillions of microbes that carry out important chemistry and biology that keeps us alive. Deep sequencing of these microbial roommates revealed thousands of biosynthetic gene clusters (BGC) present in their genomes. These BGCs encode enzymes that work like assembly lines to synthesize a wide-range of molecules with activities that include but are not limited to, driving the development of the immune system, alterations to pools of neurotransmitters, and controlling microbe:microbe interactions in the body. My laboratory believes that a core set of molecules exists inside and on our bodies and that these molecules play critical roles that promote health or disease states. As such, we are trying to determine what molecules are naturally synthesized by bacteria that live on our skin, how those molecules alter immune signaling, and if we know what molecules are found on “healthy skin”, if the molecular signatures can be used as diagnostic tools for disease states. We use a mixture of microbiology, analytical chemistry, and biochemistry to ask these questions.