Coulter BME Seminar Series

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"Systems-level Analyses of the Human Gut Microbiome"

Ilana Brito, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Biomedical Engineering
Cornell University

How do our most intimately associated microbiota affect human health? In this talk, I will present a suite of systems-level approaches that we have developed to address this fundamental question. My lab has pioneered methods that leverage protein-protein interactions to implicate bacterial proteins in human pathways linked to disease. I will present novel methods that that enable deeper insight into the transcriptome of organisms within our guts and their spatial localization. Finally, I will shift to the problem of the spread of antibiotic resistance, in which the gut microbiota are implicated. Pathogens become multi-drug resistance by acquiring resistance traits carried by the gut microbiota. Studying this process in microbiomes is inherently difficult using current methods. I will present several methods that enable tracking of genes within the microbiome and computational tools that predict the network of gene transfer between bacteria. Overall, these systems-level tools provide data to build, engineer and refine methods to alter the microbiome for health benefits.

Ilana Brito is an Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Cornell University. Ilana received a BA from Harvard and a PhD from MIT. She received an Earth Institute Postdoctoral Fellowship from Columbia University where she launched the Fiji Community Microbiome Project (FijiCOMP), a study aimed at tracking endogenous commensal microbes and their genes between individuals and their proximal environments. She continued her postdoc work at MIT in the laboratory of Eric Alm, during which, she developed computational approaches to genome assembly, strain classification and the detection of mobile genetic elements. In her lab at Cornell, Ilana and her team are developing a suite of experimental systems biology tools to probe functions in a robust, high-throughput manner. They also have developed new technologies to track the spread of mobile genetic elements, to understand the spread of antibiotic resistance between members of the human gut microbiota. Ilana has received numerous accolades for her work, including a Sloan Research Fellowship, Packard Fellowship, a Pew Biomedical Research Scholarship and an NIH New Innovator Award.


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