December 16, 2019

Chin Yee Tan (Duke University)

Clostridium immunis: An immunomodulatory human-derived, murine-adapted gut commensal

Fall 2019 Graduate Student Award in Pathogenic and Commensal Organisms

We are less human than we actually think we are. Indeed, there are more cells and genetic information belonging to microbes on and within us than those of human origin. While intimidating, they are important for a variety of biological functions, such as metabolism, defense against harmful microbes, and protection against excessive and inappropriate inflammation. We recently discovered a new species of bacteria – Clostridium immunis – that when fed to laboratory mice susceptible to either intestinal inflammation or multiple sclerosis, can protect them from death or severe paralysis respectively. However, it is not known where (evolutionarily speaking) does C. immunis arise from, if its genetic relatives also have those protective effects against disease, and if its ability to protect against disease is genetically acquired from those relatives. This study will use a combination of computational and experimental methods to answer the above questions. Those answers will be critical for our understanding of how the microbes in our gut share genetic information and evolve over time, and for the development of treatments against inflammatory diseases.