Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Microbes and the Modern World: Karen Guillemin

    The last talk in the series of talks was presented by Dr. Karen Guillemin. She focused most of her talk about the microorganisms that live with us. 
   Dr. Guillemin started off the lecture talking about the history and current study human-microbe interactions. She talked about how the current study of human-microbe interactions has allowed us to shed a new light on who we are as individuals. And due to the advancements in DNA sequencing techniques, we are able to get an idea of the microbes on and inside our own body as well as a visualization of our own genome. She mentioned the Human Microbiome Project and their goal to answer the question, ‘what kinds of microbes are present on the human body?’. So far, they have uncovered the fact that different microbes reside at different parts of the body and that there is a lot of variability of residential microbes as you go from one person to the next. She focused her main topic of discussion on our residential gut microbes, which is something she has been personally experimenting with for some time now. She began by posing a few questions such as ‘how do they get there?’ and ‘can changes in the microbial communities cause disease?’. Some ways that microbes get to us is through our diet and our genetic makeup. She talked about how birth was our initial inoculation event and how depending on the way our mothers gave birth to us is a crucial cause of what microbes are present. Another inoculation is nursing; studies have shown that mother’s milk actually contains certain microbes that are beneficial to the baby’s health. Onto her actual case study, she talked about using Zebrafish as a model organism due to its transparency and having a digestive system similar to our own. Dr. Guillemin is very well known for her work with germ-free organisms such as the Zebrafish. Germ-free organisms are a good way to help deduce the function of a particular microbe by inoculating a single or a group of microorganisms at one time. 

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