Microbial and Metagenomics
The study of microbial genomics has been enabled by the proliferation of massively parallel sequencing. Today genome projects are accomplished with a fraction of the time, manpower, and funding required only a few years ago. Accordingly, comparative genomics has greatly advanced scientific understanding of microbial biology as well as defined phylogenetic relationships to test evolutionary hypotheses. In addition, genomics is employed to study microbial community assemblages including our resident microbes that are functionally interconnected with critical physiological processes. Genomics has allowed us to understand these host-microbial interactions and the inter-individual variation in microbiome structure and function through targeting phylogenetically informative markers and sequencing the entirety of the aggregate community metagenome. In addition to DNA sequencing, genomics is associated with complementary high-throughput systems approaches to characterize function of an isolated microbe or community. These methods include, but are certainly not limited to, sequence-based transcriptomics (RNA-seq), proteomics, and various metabolomic platforms.
Currently there is much excitement in obtaining a clearer understanding of microbial community operations in nature such as in soil or marine ecosystems. This includes investigating human-harbored microbiomes with the potential to yield applications ranging from diagnostics of health to dietary or pharmacological strategies to intervene in various pathological states. Scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have entered partnerships with industry to characterize the influence of microbes on human, non-human animals, and plant health from a genomics perspective.
Microbiome research is among the most exciting and promising areas of science today due to many technological advances, particular in high throughput DNA and RNA sequencing, that allow us to determine in complex environments which microbes are present and their metabolism.
The Sela lab investigates biological phenomena at the convergence of health, diet, and our microbiome. Our goal is to quantify physiological interconnectedness with our resident microbiota, particularly those pathways that emanate from an evolved codependence. We utilize several sequence-based approaches including comparative and functional genomics, as well as methodologies to examine microbial ecosystems. Moreover, we are highly interested in translating scientific knowledge to guide clinical or dietary interventions to correct misassembled microbial communities.
The prominent component of the research in the Blanchard lab is using genomic and computational methods to understand the ecology and evolution of gut and forest soil microbiomes. Our laboratory is set up for standard molecular biology and microbial physiology research and contains specialized equipment for isolating and culturing anaerobic bacteria.