Our lab focuses on how host genetic background contributes to the balance between the immune response to microbiota in the gut and intestinal microbial membership. While some disease phenotypes are controlled by one or two genes, other diseases, like inflammatory bowel diseases, have many genes involved that each have a small effect. Animal models that have been inbred to decrease genetic diversity are not ideal for examining the mechanisms that underlie complex diseases like IBD. Therefore, we developed the genetically variable threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) as a model to examine how host genetic background influences immune response to microbiota in the gut and gut microbial community membership. We found that genetically distinct populations have different gut microbial communities and vary in their immune responses to microbiota. We use this model to examine mechanisms that are involved in the host immune response to microbiota and microbial community membership, with the hopes that these mechanisms will elucidate genetic contribution to human diseases like inflammatory bowel diseases.

Given that gut microbiota protect the host against pathogens, we are also interested in determining how host genetic background induces or suppresses inflammation in the gut, and how those changes result in differential susceptibility to pathogens due to, or concurrent with, changes in microbiota membership.

Student research opportunities: Kat is building a diverse research program that incorporates several aspects of host-microbe interactions. We welcome students interested in fields as diverse as bacteriology, immunology, systems biology, bioinformatics, ecology, and pathogenic microbiology. Please contact the lab with a statement of which aspect of research you are interested in pursuing and your CV.

Check out our feature in UAA’s Seawolf Monthly!