The boundary keepers: Structure, activity, and genomic potential of intestinal mucus-associated microbial communities

Current projects

The entire gastrointestinal tract is lined with a mucosal layer which forms the barrier between the inside of the host and the “outside world”. The mucus has to establish a fine balance between harboring beneficial bacteria helping to digest food, whilst also protecting the host from pathogens. Many of the mechanisms and intricate relationships between the mucus layer and the many different bacterial species (including mucin degraders) remain to be unknown.

This project aims to create a better understanding of these mutualistic relations to gain more knowledge on the interaction of commensal bacteria with specific components of the mucosal layer as well as changes in this ecosystem due to dietary effects.

Chondroitin sulfate (CS) and hyaluronic acid (HA) are two components of the extracellular matrix (ECM). The ECM plays an important role not only in structural integrity but also with innate immunity. For example, HA breakdown products in the intestine have been linked to inflamed IBD tissue. To gain more insight of the mucosal-bacterial relationships in a more intricate manner CS & HA are studied as a growth substrate for various bacteria during anaerobic cultivation using FACE-PAGE to determine the breakdown of the substrates and RNA sequencing to get insight in the gene activity of the various bacteria types. Moreover, mouse models will be used to study alteration of the mucosal environment by diet in a more holistic approach. Analyses will include SCFA profiles, microbial composition and mucosal degradation.

Student: Annelieke Overbeeke

Faculty: Berry (PI)

Funding: ERC Funkeygut & FWF Boundary Keepers