Research Summary

Hibernation Microbiome

Hibernation Microbiome

Microbiology fascinates me due to the disproportionate ability of microscopic organisms to influence larger entities, ranging from animals to whole ecosystems.

I study the complex relationship between communities of microbes (microbiome) and their host, which is vital for increasing metabolic efficiency and optimizing energy usage to benefit both partners.

This relationship is especially dynamic in animals that experience extreme, natural shifts in diet and physiology:
hibernating mammals!

I study hibernating 13-lined ground squirrels to understand how the squirrel and its gut microbes work together to survive winter

To use hibernation to improve medicine and space travel!

Hibernation has great potential to improve biomedical treatments like induced comas.

It may also hold the secret to advancing space travel by allowing astronauts to enter a hibernation-like state.

Hibernation Cycle

What is Hibernation?

Hibernation is a strategy that some animals use to survive times of high energy demand and low resource availability, such as cold winters.

During summer and spring, the host feasts to build up adequate fat stories that it can use during winter hibernation. This provides it microbiome with plentify dietary substances for energy.

However, during winter the host fasts and hibernates, depleting its gut of dietary substances and forcing the microbiome to rely solely on host-produced substrates such as mucin secreted by gut cells.

During hibernation, the host's metabolism drops to < 4% of its normal rate, causing its body temperature to plummet from 98.6°F (37°C) to as low as 39.2°F (4°C), or just above freezing. Super crazy, right?!

These extreme changes in diet and physiology make hibernators a fascinating model organism for studying the microbe-host symbiosis!

Edna plus hibernation microbiome equals PhD

What Do I Do?

I'm interested in the microbial story of hibernation. I want to know how the microbiome responds to hibernation and contributes to this behavior.

Specifically, I want to know how who's there (taxonomic composition) is related to what they're capable of doing (genomic composition) and what they're actually doing (observed function). I'm interested in this relationship in the context of degrading dietary substances.

I spend most of my days on my computer, analyzing DNA sequencing data with bioinformatics. DNA sequences allow me to identify who's there and what they're capable of doing. My favorite part of my research is uncovering the storries hidden in large datasets.

My research helps turn science fiction into reality by helping us understand how microbes contribute to hibernation. This is important because hibernation has great potential to be applied to humans to improve biomedical treatments that involve fasting or decrease metabolism, and to propel space travel by putting astronauts into a hibernation-like state.