(293c) Invited Speaker: Developing Tools to Study and Engineer Microbes Beneficial to Human Health

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Microbiota health is linked to human development and wellness, and in turn, microbial dysbiosis can stem from, or spur, disease. With the largest microbial community present in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, a perturbed gut microbiota can invite opportunistic overgrowth, nosocomial infection, immunodysregulation, and metabolic imbalances, each of which have been associated with a multitude of diseases. The gut microbiota has been further associated with aging, asthma and atopy, cardiovascular disease, neuropsychiatric disorders, cancer, and childhood diseases. Although historically contextualized within traditional medicine and home remedies, recent explorations into treatments of these conditions have sought to leverage the microbe–microbe–host connection by restoring homeostasis through the supplementation of good bugs, colloquially termed probiotics. Lactic acid bacteria, largely from the order Lactobacillales and long used in food and agricultural processing, have become a centerpiece of probiotics research. While probiotic lactic acid bacteria are often sold as over-the-counter health supplements, they have an opaque connection to wellness, resulting in symptom alleviation or general health promotion without a designated mode-of-action. In this talk, I will highlight my group’s recent progress in developing of tools and methodologies to understand and engineer the interactions of lactic acid bacteria with their host and other microbes with the long-term goal of demystifying the mechanisms by which probiotics promote health benefits and how to further enhance their use as living therapeutics to treat disease indications.