Dr. Emma Allen-Vercoe

Dr. Emma Allen-Vercoe in the lab
Professor, Canada Research Chair
Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology
Email: 
eav@uoguelph.ca
Phone number: 
53366 / 54478
Office: 
SSC 3252
Lab: 
SSC 3204

I began my research career with undergraduate and graduate studies at the Central Veterinary Laboratories (now Veterinary Laboratories Agency) and the Centre for Applied and Microbiological Research (CAMR, now the Health Protection Agency), UK, under the direction of Prof. Martin Woodward. There, I studied the enteric pathogen Salmonella enterica serovar Enteritidis, and developed a sound appreciation of the many obstacles that a enteric pathogen must overcome in the gut in order to cause disease. I became fascinated by the huge arsenal of virulence factors required by enteric pathogens in order to survive and proliferate in the gut environment.

I spent a brief postdoctoral period at CAMR, learning to work with technically challenging pathogens such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Campylobacter jejuni, before I relocated to Canada in 2001 to start a postdoctoral position at the University of Calgary, under the joint direction of Drs. Rebekah DeVinney and Mike Surette. Here I worked on Enteropathogenic and Enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EPEC and EHEC), using cell and molecular biology techniques to probe the fascinating interactions of their type III secretion systems with host cells. 

I had always been interested in learning more about the normal microbial population inside the human gut, and in 2004 I was fortunate enough to win a Fellow-to-Faculty Transition award through the Canadian Association of Gastroenterology. This award allowed me to develop an independent research program aimed at the study of the normal human microbiota and its influence on human health and disease, a program that I brought with me to Guelph in December 2007.

Since I’ve been here, with thanks to my very talented staff and students I have built a world-class anaerobic microbiology facility and directed it both towards answering fundamental research questions, and to create translational opportunities to move the science into the clinic.  In 2013, I co-founded NuBiyota, a company whose mission is to develop “Microbial Ecosystem Therapeutics” to treat disorders that have gut microbial dysbiosis as a root cause.

My motto: "My microbes told me to do it"
My hobbies: Gardening, reading, reading about gardening

  • B.Sc. (Hons) Biochemistry, University of London
  • Ph.D. Molecular Biology, Open University in conjunction with CAMR, UK 
  • Post-doctoral fellow, University of Calgary

Research in my laboratory is focused on the study of the normal human gut microbiota, both in disease and in health. The research can be loosely divided into several main areas centered on fundamental questions in the field of microbial ecology of the gut:

WHAT GROWS THERE?

The microbial world inside the human gut, though not without an intrinsic 'ick' factor, is a fascinating place, brimming with diversity on an enormous scale, but yet very poorly understood. While molecular signatures have shown that the microbiota community within the gut can contain many hundreds of bacterial species, only a small percentage of these species are understood in terms of their biology. The lack of knowledge in this area stems from the fact that, as yet, the conditions required to culture most of the bacterial species resident in the human gut are not well understood. In my laboratory, we are developing new techniques to culture and study novel bacterial species from the gut in order to better understand how these species might contribute to the remarkable homeostasis of the microbiota community as a whole. Central to our research approach, we have developed a continuous culture system to model the bacterial communities within the distal gut, the most densely populated part of the human body in terms of microbes. Dubbed the Robogut, our model contributes to many of the projects within the lab. Click this link to see a recent piece featuring this work on CBC's Quirks and Quarks' radio show. Click this link to see members of my lab explain the system in detail.

We have enjoyed an extensive collaboration with the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, whereby we have provided a significant number of the bacterial isolates requested for genome sequencing through the Human Microbiome Project. We remain working closely with elements of this project, including the production of microbiological standards for HMP sequencing projects.

HOW DOES THE GUT MICROBIOTA RESPOND TO ITS ENVIRONMENT?

We are interested in the metabolic output of the gut microbiota and how this changes in response to environmental stimuli. We are interested in the response of the gut microbiota to drugs, food additives, and host proteins. We have developed NMR as a tool for shotgun metabolomics of microbial ecosystems to help us understand metabolic shifts in response to microbiota perturbation. We currently apply this approach to the study of several diseases, including type 1 diabetes, colorectal cancer and IBD.

We are also interested in the role of the virobiome – the viral microbiome, in intestinal health. Viruses are the most numerous components of the human gut microbiome, but their role in ecosystem development and dynamics is not well understood. The Robogut system offers us the perfect opportunity to study the interaction of the virome with the cellular components of the gut microbial ecosystem.


WHICH BACTERIAL SPECIES OF THE NORMAL MICROBIOTA CAN CONTRIBUTE TO HEALTH/DISEASE?

In a healthy person, despite the constantly changing environment within the gut, the resident microbiota maintain a largely homeostatic balance that is unique to the host. It is becoming increasingly clear that when this balance is shifted, the consequences to the host can be highly detrimental. My lab studies several key diseases with connections to the gut microbiota: Colorectal cancer, Type 1 diabetes and Clostridioides difficile infection (CDI).

CDI is an infection of particular and growing concern in the hospital setting, causing pain and serious diarrhea in affected patients. C.difficile usually infects patients who have recently had a course of antibiotics, stripping them of their normal gut microbiota and allowing space for the pathogen to flourish. Ironically, the current treatment for CDI is a further course of antibiotics to target the C.difficile. Unfortunately, C.difficile can be very difficult to eradicate in this way, and some patients end up with a recurrent C. difficile infection that they are unable to clear, leaving them with no option but to take long-term doses of expensive antibiotics. Fecal transplants offer a potential solution to this infection, by restoring normal flora and displacing the pathogen; however these carry a fairly high degree of risk themselves due to the potential presence of unknown pathogens in donor stool, and as well the procedure is messy and unpleasant. We are working to produce a defined multi-species therapeutic ecosystem – a synthetic stool treatment that we have dubbed "RePOOPulate" – to overcome the problems of fecal transplants, while still offering a potential cure for CDI. This work is being carried out in conjunction with NuBiyota, to create what we hope is an emerging paradigm in medicine.

Click on this link to download a Medical Post article describing this work. 
Click on this link to view a CTV The National piece that describes the use of RePOOPulate to treat a severely ill CDI patient.

Colorectal cancer is one of the leading forms of cancer in the world. In 2011, in collaboration with the BC Cancer Agency, our lab helped to demonstrate the overabundance of a particular anaerobic species, Fusobacterium nucleatum, in colorectal cancer tumours. This fascinating finding has opened the door to many further studies that are now underway to try to characterize the role that this enigmatic species may have in disease.  In my lab, we are focused on understanding how F. nucleatum interacts with host cells to cause disease, and how this process is affected by factors such as host diet, existing microbiome and antibiotic use. In addition to this, we hope that NuBiyota’s therapeutic ecosystem approach may be useful for treatment of CRC through reduction of F. nucleatum loads.

Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) is a serious metabolic disease where the body has difficulty in regulating blood sugar levels, as a result of the pancreas producing insufficient amounts of insulin.  There is a growing amount of evidence that the gut microbiota plays an important role in the development of T1D. In particular, exposure to certain microbial species found in the gut may trigger an autoimmune response to the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas in susceptible individuals. Our lab is working in collaboration with the lab of Jayne Danska, Sick Kids, to try to understand how, and which, gut microbes contribute to diabetes.

What are the consequences of our "missing microbiota"?

It is generally accepted that humans in the western world are colonized by a less diverse ecosystem than those of people who live without modern conveniences, such as hunter-gatherer tribespeople. We are interested to understand what is different about the hunter-gatherer gut microbiome in terms of the metabolism of the ‘missing microbes’ by culturing and studying these species, and using them to supplement a western microbiome.

Understanding the mouse microbiome

Mice are frequently used as models for human disease, yet the mouse microbiome is poorly understood and varies according to e.g. housing conditions and animal genotype. We are working to model the mouse gut microbiome and its function, with the hope of standardizing the laboratory mouse gut microbiota to promote reproducibility in animal models.

  • *Cancer research UK
  • *National Institutes of Health, (NIH)
  • Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, (OMAFRA) 
  • Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC)
  • *The Juvenile Diabetes Research Institute (JDRF)
  • Pulse Crops (Canada) Association
  • *The Canadian Cancer Research Institute
  • Crohn's and Colitis Canada, (CCC)
  • US Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical ResearchProgram (CDMRP)
  • Physician’s Services Incorporated (PSI)
  • The Southeastern Ontario Academic Medical Organization (SEAMO)
  • *Canadian Institutes of Health Research, (CIHR)
  • *Canada Foundation for Innovation, (CFI) 
  • Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation, (OMRI) 
  • Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE)
  • The Autism Research Institute

Past and *Present

Publications (since 2016) 

* indicates EAV lab member

  • *Cochrane, K., *Robinson, A., Holt, RA, Allen-Vercoe E., A survey of Fusobacterium nucleatum genes modulated by host cell infection. Microbial Genomics (in press)
  • *Oliphant K, *Parreira VR, *Cochrane K, Allen-Vercoe E.  Drivers of human gut microbial community assembly: coadaptation, determinism and stochasticity. ISME J. 2019 Sep 2. doi: 10.1038/s41396-019-0498-5
  • Allen-Vercoe E, Carmical JR, Forry SP, Sinha R, Gail MH.  Perspectives for Consideration in the Development of Microbial Cell Reference Materials. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2019 Sep 12. pii: cebp.0557.2019. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-19-0557.
  • *Watkins C, Murphy K, *Yen S, Carafa I, Dempsey EM, O' Shea CA, Allen-Vercoe E, Ross RP, Stanton C, Ryan CA. Effects of therapeutic hypothermia on the gut microbiota and metabolome of infants suffering hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy at birth. Int. J. Biochem. Cell Biol. 93 2017, 110-118
  • *Oliphant K, Allen-Vercoe E.  Macronutrient metabolism by the human gut microbiome: major fermentation by-products and their impact on host health. Microbiome. 2019;7(1):91. doi: 10.1186/s40168-019-0704-8.
  • Hold GL, Allen-Vercoe E.  Gut microbial biofilm composition and organisation holds the key to CRC. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2019 ;16(6):329-330. doi: 10.1038/s41575-019-0148-4.
  • Paun A, Yau C, Meshkibaf S, *Daigneault MC, Marandi L, Mortin-Toth S, Bar-Or A, Allen-Vercoe E, Poussier P, Danska JS. Association of HLA-dependent islet autoimmunity with systemic antibody responses to intestinal commensal bacteria in children. Sci Immunol. 2019 Feb 1;4(32). pii: eaau8125. doi: 10.1126/sciimmunol.aau8125.
  • *Carlucci C, *Jones CS, *Oliphant K, *Yen S, *Daigneault M, *Carriero C, *Robinson A, Petrof EO, Weese JS, Allen-Vercoe E. Effects of defined gut microbial ecosystem components on virulence determinants of Clostridioides difficile. Sci Rep. 2019 Jan 29;9(1):885. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-37547-x
  • Fang X, Monk JM, Nurk S, Akseshina M, Zhu Q, *Gemmell C, *Gianetto-Hill C, Leung N, Szubin R, Sanders J, Beck PL, Li W, Sandborn WJ, Gray-Owen SD, Knight R, Allen-Vercoe E, Palsson BO, Smarr L. Metagenomics-Based, Strain-Level Analysis of Escherichia coli From a Time-Series of Microbiome Samples From a Crohn's Disease Patient. Front Microbiol. 2018 Oct 30;9:2559. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2018.02559. eCollection 2018.
  • Liu C, Wright B,  E, Gu H, Beiko R.Phylogenetic Clustering of Genes Reveals Shared Evolutionary Trajectories and Putative Gene Functions. Genome Biol Evol. 2018 Sep 1;10(9):2255-2265. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evy178.
  • Klurfeld, D., Davis, C., Karp, R., Allen-Vercoe, E., Chang, E., B. Chassaing, G. Fahey, B. Hamaker, H. Holscher, J. Lampe, A. Marette, E. Martens, S. O'Keefe, D. Rose, M. Saarela, B., Schneeman, J. Slavin, J. Sonnenburg, K. Swanson, G. Wu, C. Lynch. Considerations for Best Practices in Studies of Diet and the Intestinal Microbiome. American Journal of Physiology: Endocrinology and Metabolism 2018 Dec 1;315(6):E1087-E1097.
  • Haines J, Douglas S, Mirotta JA, O'Kane C, Breau R, Walton K, Krystia O, Chamoun E, Annis A, Darlington GA, Buchholz AC, Duncan AM, Vallis LA, Spriet LL, Mutch DM, Brauer P, Allen-Vercoe E, Taveras EM, Ma DWL; Guelph Family Health Study.  Guelph Family Health Study: pilot study of a home-based obesity prevention intervention. Can J Public Health. 2018 Aug;109(4):549-560. doi: 10.17269/s41997-018-0072-3.
  • Guzman-Rodriguez, M., *McDonald, J., Hyde, R., Allen-Vercoe, E., Claud, E., Sheth, P. and Petrof, E. Using bioreactors to study the effects of drugs on the human microbiota. Methods 149:31-41. doi: 10.1016/j.ymeth.2018.08.003
  • *Yen, S., *Bolte, E., Aucoin, M., & Allen-Vercoe, E. (2018).  Metabonomic evaluation of fecal water preparation methods: the effects of ultracentrifugation. Current Metabolomics, 6 (1), 57-63.
  • Bogiatzi, C., Gloor, G., Allen-Vercoe, E., Reid, G., Wong, R., Urquhart, BL, Dinculescu, V, Ruetz, KN, Velenosi, TJ, Pignanelli, M, Spence, JD (2018).  Metabolic products of the intestinal mirobiome and extremes of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis, 273, 91-97.
  • Gloor, G., Wong, R., Allen-Vercoe, E., Dinculescu, V., Pignanelli, M., Bogiatzi C, Reid, G, Spence, JD (2018).  Data on the gut and saliva microbiota from a cohort of atherosclerosis patients determined by 16S rRNA gene sequencing. Data in Brief, 19, 481-485.
  • Pignanelli, M., Just, C., Bogiatzi, C., Dinculescu, V., Gloor, G., Allen-Vercoe, E., Reid, G., Urquhart, BL, Ruetz, KN, Velenosi, TJ, Spence, JD (2018).  Mediterranean diet score: associations with metabolic products of the intestinal microbiome, carotid plaque burden, and renal function. Nutrients, 16 (10), E779.
  • Garcia, C, Tebbji, F, *Daigneault, M, Liu, N-N, Koehler, J, Allen-Vercoe, E, and Sellam, A. (2017) The human gut microbial metabolome modulates fungal growth via TOR signaling pathway. MSphere 2(6). pii: e00555-17. doi: 10.1128/mSphere.00555-17
  • Sessenwein, JL, Baker, CC, Pradhananga, S, Maitland ME, Petrof, EO, Allen-Vercoe, E, Noordhof, C, Reed, DE, Vanner, SJ and Lomax AE. (2017) Protease-mediated suppression of DRG neuron excitability by commensal bacteria. J Neurosci 37 (48):11758-11768.
  • Casasanta, MA, Yoo, CC, Smith, HB, Duncan, AJ, *Cochrane, K, Varano, AC, Allen-Vercoe, E, and Slade, DJ.   A chemical and biological toolbox for Type Vd secretion: characterization of the phospholipase A1 autotransporter FplA from Fusobacterium nucleatum.  J Biol Chem 2017 Dec 8;292(49):20240-20254. 
  • Costea, P., Ehrlich, D., Dore, J., Bork, P., Guarner, F., IHMS partners (including Allen-Vercoe, E.), (2017). Towards standards for human fecal sample processing in metagenomic studies. Nature Biotechnology, 35 (11):1069-1076.
  • Van Raay, T. and Allen-Vercoe, E. (2017) Microbial interactions and interventions in colorectal cancer. Microbiology Spectrum, 5(3).
  • Murall C.L., Abbate J.L., Puelma-Touzel M., Allen-Vercoe E., Alizon S. Froissart R., McCann K., (2017) Invasions of host-associated microbiome networks. Advances in Ecological Research, 57:201-281.
  • Moniz, K., Ropers, M.-H., Dudefoi, W., Allen-Vercoe E., Walker, V. (2017) Impact of food grade and nanoTiO2 particles on a human intestinal community. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 106 (PtA):242-249.
  • Belik, J., Shifrin, Y., Bottiglieri, T., Pan, J., *Daigneault, M., Allen-Vercoe, E. (2017) Intestinal microbiota as a tetrahydrobiopterin exogenous source in hph-1 mice. Scientific Reports, 12 (7):39854.
  • Martz, S.-L. E., He, S.-M., Noordhof, C., Hurlbut, D.J., Gloor, G., *Carlucci, C., Weese, J.S., Allen-Vercoe, E., Sun, J., Claud, E.C. and Petrof, E.O.  (2016) A human gut ecosystem protects against Clostridium difficile disease by targeting TcdA. J. Gastroenterology 52(4):452-465.
  • Das P., Saulnier, E., *Carlucci, C., Allen-Vercoe, E., Shah, V, Walker, V.K. (2016) Interaction between a Broad-spectrum Antibiotic and Silver Nanoparticles in a Human Gut Ecosystem. Journal of Nanomedicine and Nanotechnology in press.
  • *Carlucci C, Petrof EO, Allen-Vercoe E. (2016) Fecal Microbiota-based Therapeutics for Recurrent Clostridium difficile Infection, Ulcerative Colitis and Obesity. EBioMedicine. Nov;13:37-45.
  • *Cochrane, K., McGuire, A. M., Priest, M. E., Abouelleil, A., Cerqueira, G. C., Lo, R., Earl, A.M., Allen-Vercoe, E., (2016). Complete Genome Sequences and Analysis of the Fusobacterium nucleatum subspecies animalis 7-1 Bacteriophage ɸFunu1 and ɸFunu2. Anaerobe. Apr;38:125-9.
  • Wissenbach D.K., *Oliphant K., Rolle-Kampczyk U., *Yen S., Höke H., Baumann S., Haange S.B., Verdu E.F., Allen-Vercoe E., von Bergen M.  (2016) Optimization of metabolomics of defined in vitro gut microbial ecosystems. Int J Med Microbiol. Aug;306(5):280-9.
  • Munoz S., Guzman-Rodriguez M., Sun J., Zhang Y.G., Noordhof C., He S.M., Allen-Vercoe E., Claud E.C., Petrof E.O. (2016) Rebooting the microbiome. Gut Microbes. Jul 3;7(4):353-363.
  • Chamoun, E., Mutch, D.M., Allen-Vercoe, E., Buchholz, A., Duncan, A. M., Spriet, L.L., Haines, J. and Ma, D.W.L. (2016) A review of the associations between single nucleotide polymorphisms in taste receptors, eating behaviours, and health. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. In press.
  • Gupta, S., Allen-Vercoe, E., & Petrof, E. (2016). Fecal transplantation-in perspective. Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology. Mar;9(2):229-39.
  • Link to complete set of publications: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=llen-vercoe

Availability of microbial strains

The lab is often asked for stocks of microbial strains that have been deposited to the HMP reference genome collection (and that are not available through BEI Resources), or that are otherwise available in our considerable library of gut and oral microbial isolates. We are very happy to help, although the work has increased in volume in recent years. Therefore, we now ask that our requestors contribute to the cost of the preparation and QC of outgoing strains. Our standard cost is CAD$150 per strain (or CAD$400 to 'for profit' enterprise), as well as the cost of shipping. Requestors are responsible for acquisition of any import permits, as required. Some strains may be subject to the execution of a Materials Transfer Agreement (MTA) between the University of Guelph and the requestor's institution. Please address any questions about strain availability/MTA execution to Dr. Allen-Vercoe (eav@uoguelph.ca). Please note that many strains within our collection are fastidious anaerobes and require specific conditions for culture. gDNA can be prepared on request. 

 

 

Some of the Allen-Vercoe lab, August 2018

Some of the Allen-Vercoe lab, August 2018

Some of the Allen-Vercoe lab, September 2017

Some of the Allen-Vercoe lab, September 2017

Allen-Vercoe Lab, Summer 2016

(Most of) the Allen-Vercoe Lab, Summer 2016

CBS BBQ, 2014

The Allen-Vercoe Lab, CBS BBQ, June 2014

Gutsy Walk June 2012

The Allen-Vercoe lab, Gutsy Walk for the CCFC, June 2012

The NuBiyota Team

Kathleen Schroeter

Dr. Kathleen Schroeter
Process and Production Manager, NuBiyota

Kathleen is working on various aspects of manufacture and quality control of microbial ecosystem therapeutics products.
Motto: "May the force be with you"
Hobbies: Sports, sports and more sports, reading, gaming, cooking, hiking, spending time with her dogs 
kathleen.schroeter@nubiyota.com
 

Dr. Christian Carlucci
Research Scientist, NuBiyota

Christian works on the development and characterization of human gut microbiome therapeutics.  
Motto: "People don't forget" 
Hobbies: Playing in a rock 'n' roll band 
christian.carlucci@nubiyota.com




Dr. Kyla Cochrane
Research Scientist, NuBiyota

Kyla is NuBiyota’s bioinformatics expert and lends her skills to the development of novel ecosystem therapeutics.

Motto: “Think twice, code once” 

Hobbies: Painting, travel and my cat, Jones.

Kyla.cochrane@nubiyota.com
 

Charley Carriero

Motto: Let's go to the beach.

Hobbies: Hiking, swimming, camping, kayaking 


 

 

Joseph Ciufo

Motto: Don't count the days, make the days count.

Hobbies: Reading, Gaming, Rock Climbing and Fantasy Football 



 

 

Lana El Osta

Motto: The world is full of negativity, so stay positive :-)

Hobbies: Reading about philosophy, politics, classical literature, and history, learning new subjects, doing charity work/volunteering, spending time with family and close friends, trying new and random places to eat, going out for walks in nature especially in the fall, working out, playing baseball, basketball, and badminton, painting, colouring, drawing, organizing my closet, and cooking.

 

Karen Gonzalez

Motto: “For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love”— Carl Sagan

Hobbies: Strength training, digital drawing, tabletop RPG, collecting visual art, watching animated shows and movies as well as sci-fi and fantasy, going to concerts and events...

 

Dalal Mughamis

Motto: One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.

Hobbies: Reading, playing guitar, listening to music, and random adventures with my friends and family.

 

 

Alyssa Koch

Motto: Such is life…

Hobbies: animals, reading, gym, cooking



 


Craig Moore

Motto: "Never tell me the odds"

Hobbies: Star Wars, Reading, Board/Video games, and spending time at the cottage





 


Keith Sherriff

Hobbies: Ultimate Frisbee, golf, and cooking 

Motto: Don't Panic 




 

AJ Stirling

Motto: "Don't take life too seriously, no one gets out alive anyway."

Hobbies: Cooking, gaming, running,  and binge-watching Netflix shows.

 

Valerie Wai

Hobbies: Kindness is free! 

Motto: Clay scultping, drawing. 


 

Alexa Soulliere
Co-op student

Alexa is working with Simone Renwick to culture gut microbes from children with type I diabetes, and she is also testing the transfer of antibiotic resistance genes in the Robogut model.
Motto: “After every storm there is a rainbow”
Hobbies: Running, reading, baking, travel, aikido, hanging out with my younger siblings and learning new things! 
asoullie@uoguelph.ca

 

 

Laura Devine
Project student

Laura is working with Avery Robinson to culture gut microbes from tissue samples derived from colorectal cancer patients.
Motto: “Think positive, be positive”
Hobbies: Netflix, camping, expanding my graphic t-shirt collection 
ldevine@uoguelph.ca

 

 

Connor Gianetto-Hill

Connor Gianetto-Hill
Project student

Connor’s project is to develop a Robogut diet reflective of the Hunter-Gatherer lifestyle, and to test how this supports the Western gut microbiota. 
Motto: "Adapt and overcome”
Hobbies: Netflix, reading, cooking, horror movies
cgianett@uoguelph.ca

 

Anna Tran
Project student

Anna is working with Caroline Ganobis to develop Robogut media to mimic mouse lab chow diets.
Motto: “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darknesse”
Hobbies: My pet birds, planning what to eat, stories 
atran07@uoguelph.ca


 

 

 

Jackie Strauss

Jackie Strauss

Congratulations to Jackie Strauss, Ph.D. September 2011! Jackie's project was focused on understanding the role of the anaerobic pathogen, Fusobacterium nucleatum, in the etiology of IBD. 

 

 

 

 

 

Julie McDonald

Julie McDonald

Congratulations to Julie McDonald, PhD. May 2013! Julie's project focused on developing the Roboguts as a model of the human distal gut microbial ecosystem. Her project also examined the role of gut microbial biofilms in the maintenance of homeostasis during stress.

 

 

 

Ian Brown

Ian Brown

Congratulations to Ian Brown, M.Sc. June 2014. Ian studied the human distal gut microbiota's response to different resistant starches  derived from novel lines of maize. 

 

 

 

Kathleen Schroeter

Kathleen Schroeter

Congratulations to Kathleen Schroeter, PhD August 2014! Kathleen studied the role of various microbiota groups in biofilm formation in the distal gut. 
Co-supervised by Dr. Cezar Khursigara. 

 

 

 

Erin BolteErin Bolte

Congratulations to Erin Bolte, MSc April 2015!
Erin investigated the metabolic output of whole gut microbial communities cultured from autism spectrum disorder patients in the Roboguts, and assessed the effect of these metabolites on gut colonocytes in vitro

 

 

 

Mike Toh
 

Mike Toh
Congratulations to Mike Toh, PhD December 2015!
Co-supervised by Dr. Terry Van Raay, MCB, Mike developed the zebrafish embryo model as an innovative system to study the effects of gut bacterial metabolites on development, including neurogenesis and behaviour.

 

 

 

Kyla Cochrane
 

Kyla Cochrane

Congratulations to Kyla Cochrane, PhD February 2016! Kyla investigated virulence factors of Fusobacterium nucleatum as well as attempted to understand infectious synergies of F. nucleatum with other gut microbial species.

 

 

 

Christian Carlucci

Christian Carlucci

Congratulations to Christian Carlucci, PhD March 2017! Christian used the Roboguts to model the RePOOPulate ecosystem and to define the microbial species within this ecosystem and others like it that promote ecosystem robustness and resilience, with a particular emphasis on understanding potential mechanisms of action against C.difficile infection. 

 

 

 

Christian Carlucci

Kaitlyn Oliphant

Congratulations to Kaitlyn Oliphant, PhD December 2018!  Kaitlyn used the Roboguts to uncover some of the enigmatic drivers of gut microbial ecosystem dynamics. 

 

 

 

Kyla Cochrane
 

Sandi Yen

Congratulations to Sandi Yen, PhD September 2019!  Sandi developed a model of the premature infant gut microbiome and used it to understand factors that influence its robustness.

 

 

 

The Allen-Vercoe Lab Graduate Students
 


Caroline Ganobis
Ph.D. Candidate 

One of the most common in vivo models used in gastrointestinal and gut microbiome studies is the murine model. Mice possess a physiology and anatomy similar to humans, are inexpensive, have high reproductive rates and a short life cycle. However, a similarity mice and humans do not share is their gut microbiome. Compared to humans, mice differ genetically, consume a different diet, and are exposed to various environmental factors different to those found in most human environments. Each of these aspects shape the murine gut microbiome. Therefore, it is not surprising that differing mouse lines, or identical mouse lines with different housing conditions will display differing gut microbiomes. Collectively, these variations contribute to poor reproducibility and inconclusive results when using mice in lab experiments. As well, even mouse models which attempt to control differences in the microbiota fail to represent the true complexity and diversity found within the murine gastrointestinal tract. If we are to continue using mouse models as a proxy for human disease, one way to improve them may be to include a standardized murine-derived microbiome. My project, in collaboration with the Navarre Lab at the University of Toronto, aims to characterize the mouse gut microbiota, and to develop an in vitro model of the mouse colon in the Robogut that will help to standardize mouse models, and perhaps allow us to better understand their relevance to human health.


Motto: “Just be nice”
Hobbies: experimenting with foods, lifting things to be able to experiment with foods, and befriending dogs
ganobisc@uoguelph.ca

 

Simone Renwick 
Ph.D. candidate
Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) is one of the most common chronic diseases affecting children and the numbers of children being diagnosed has doubled in recent decades. Evidence from animal studies demonstrate that T1D incidence is associated with shifts in the composition of the gut microbiome. However, researchers are unsure of what triggers these changes in children. The objective of my research at the Allen-Vercoe lab is to investigate the gut microbiomes of infants to try to better understand the progression of T1D. Through a collaboration with Dr. Jayne Danska at the Hospital for Sick Children, I obtained stool samples from infants at risk of developing the disease—some of whom were subsequently diagnosed with T1D. I grew the microbes in these stool samples in ‘Robogut’ chemostat models that were designed to mimic the conditions of the human gut. The microbes formed stable communities within the chemostat vessels that resembled the communities in the infants that donated samples. Studying which microbes were present and what they were doing will give clues about their potential role in the development of T1D.

Motto: “Life is better when you’re laughing :)”
Hobbies: Reading, Hiking, Painting and Chess 

srenwick@uoguelph.ca

 

Jacob Wilde
Ph.D. candidate

My research involves the viral inhabitants of the human gut. Most of the living things in our gut are bacteria, so it comes as no surprise that most gut viruses infect bacteria, and bacteria only. Sometimes these bacterial viruses kill the cells they infect, and sometimes they ‘upgrade’ them with genetic novelties. In the latter case, the virus usually ‘hides’ inside the host-bacterium, piggy-backing on the success of its recently upgraded bacterial vessel. In most bacterial ecosystems, such as those in fresh water or soil, piggy-backing viruses are the minority. In the human gut, they are the majority. 

Currently, I am seeking to understand how communities of piggy-backing viruses are formed in our gut, how they are maintained, and how they influence the bacterial populations that call our bowels 'home.' In other words, I am asking, “How did they get there? What can they do? How important are they for the fitness and health of a human?”  I am doing this in collaboration with the Pride lab at UC San Diego.

To us, viruses are agents of disease. While many animal viruses are certainly to blame for a large portion of human suffering, many others are friendly to us. In fact, 7% of the human genome is composed of piggy-backing animal viruses that—like their bacteria-infecting counterparts—‘hid’ inside our ancestors’ cells many thousands of years ago. These invaders have been hiding inside our cells for so long, they’ve forgotten how to get themselves out again! They are now permanent fixtures of our genetic code – the stuff that makes us ‘us.’ The same invasions are currently happening to the bacteria in our guts, but on a much faster and more dynamic scale. These invaders are abundant, adaptive, and unknown. If we are to truly understand what it means for a gastrointestinal ecosystem to be ‘healthy,’ we must first understand how these viruses influence the lives of their bacterial hosts.

Motto: "No crackers, Gromit! We've forgotten the crackers!"
Hobbies: Insect evolution, insect poems, insect neurology, viruses, rugby, hockey, rugby.
jwilde@uoguelph.ca


 

Avery Robinson
Ph.D. candidate

Fusobacterium nucleatum (Fn) is a common bacterial member of the human oral

microbiome—and it is an opportunist. When Fn is found elsewhere in the human body, the microbe is typically associated with disease, and colorectal cancer (CRC) is one such disease. In fact, the presence of Fn in the tissues can often predict a poor outcome.    Unfortunately, we don’t know much about how Fn causes disease, and whether all of the other microbes present in the colon, the colonic ‘microbiota’ influence this process.

To make a start in understanding disease processes, scientists often use animal or tissue culture models such as mice and ‘organoids’ (small pieces of tissue), respectively.  In the case of mice, we don’t yet understand whether Fn affects these animals in the same way it does humans.  To address this, the first part of my research is aimed at understanding how well the mouse model of Fn disease matches what happens in human disease, at a molecular level.  To do this, I will use cultured mouse cells and the equivalent human cells and infect them with Fn, then track the effects of infection at a molecular level using microscopy, to visualize the cells, and a technique called ‘RNA-seq’, which allows us to see how the cells are behaving.

The next part of my project is to understand how Fn might be influenced in its ability to cause disease by determining whether the colonic microbiota plays a role in infection.  Members of the microbiota may be neutral bystanders to the process of Fn infection, but alternatively they may influence Fn by either helping or hindering the pathogenic process.  I will carry out infection experiments in the presence of absence of selected microbes from the colon, and from this I should be able to see if there are certain microbes that, when present, may alter the course of Fn mediated disease.

Finally, since it is known that microbes communicate with each other using a chemical language, I am interested to find out whether Fn can respond to the language of the gut microbiota alone, and whether this is enough to alter the cause of infection.  I will culture whole microbial ecosystems from the colons of both diseased and healthy people using a customized apparatus called a ‘Robogut’.  The Robogut mimics the human colonic environment, allowing us to grow most of the microbes present in a human colon, using, for example, poop as a starting point. Once the ecosystems are growing well, I will harvest some of this material and extract the molecules from the sample, without the microbes, and use this to see whether Fn can respond to this chemical language alone.  If it does, there is great value in understanding which molecules Fn responds to in particular.  This, and the outcomes of my other work will help in the development of novel therapies, diagnostic techniques or prevention strategies for CRC.

Motto: “Get $*it done!”
Hobbies: Cooking, writing, working weekends.
arobin17@mail.uoguelph.ca 

 

Greg Higgins

MSc. candidate

Bdellovibrio-and-Like Organisms (BALOs) are bacteria that have a unique lifestyle; they are predatory bacteria that attack and kill other bacterial species. The majority of the BALOs do this by squeezing inside the prey bacteria and using enzymes to dissolve the contents of the bacterial cell for use as food. One they have eaten their prey, the BALOs multiply and then pop out of the digested prey cell to continue their lifecycle on further prey. BALOs do not predate all bacterial cells, but only those with a double membrane – ‘Gram negative’ species. 

There are several bacterial species that are known to play a role in the pathogenesis of colorectal cancer (CRC). These are certain forms of E. coli, Bacteroides fragilis, and Fusobacterium nucleatum, collectively known as ‘oncomicrobes’. All of these species are Gram negative, and thus potentially vulnerable to attack by BALOs. Instead of treating a patient with broad-spectrum antibiotics, which risks promoting antibiotic resistance and damaging the microbial environment of the colon, could predatory bacteria be put to work to remove undesirable, cancer-promoting microbes from the colon? 

The current goal of my research is thus to isolate BALOs from the environment and to then test them for their predation efficacy against oncomicrobes such as F. nucleatum. Those that are shown to be efficient predators will be further ‘trained’ to improve their predatory behaviour within conditions such as those found within the human gut (37°C and no oxygen). The hope is to find BALO strains which are effective predators against CRC-promoting oncomicrobes, and could be used therapeutically to reduce or remove such oncomicrobes from the colon without damaging the rest of the microbiota or the colon itself.

Motto: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Hobbies: Hockey, Squash, Skiing, Travelling, TV/Movie Thrillers 

higginsg@uoguelph.ca

 

Riley Elder

M.Sc. candidate (co-supervised with Dr. Josephy)

The food we eat can directly impact our health, so it is important to understand what we are ingesting in our day-to-day life. Many food products are coloured using dyes to improve the presentation of food. Synthetic food dyes are used more commonly used than natural dyes because they are cheaper to produce and typically last longer. Azo dyes are a type of synthetic dye that can have very vibrant colours and be produced easily so they are used in lots of food products that are consumed around the world. Azo dyes have a specific bond that is broken down, or metabolized, by enzymes called ‘azoreductases’. Azoreductase enzymes are present in our gut bacteria, meaning that these dyes will be broken down into new products within our digestive tract. Azo dyes were first synthesized for commercial use around the beginning of the 19th century. However, after these dyes had been approved for use in commercial food products it was found that when the azo dyes are metabolized some products formed are carcinogenic. The United States, European Union and Canadian and governments decided to ban many azo dyes from use in food products after several researchers found that there was a link between these dyes and cancer.

Today there are still four azo dyes that are allowed in Canada to be used in food; Amaranth, Sunset Yellow, Allura Red and Tartrazine. More recently consumers have been boycotting foods with azo dyes. My research is focused on the dye Tartrazine since there seem to be many sensitivities to this dye and may be linked to hyperactivity in children. Children are the most susceptible to ingesting high amounts of azo dyes since many of foods targeted to children are brightly coloured, making it is easier for them to reach the acceptable daily intake (ADI). The ADI is set in place because ingesting high doses of dye can have adverse consequences.

My research is looking at the metabolites formed by these dyes within the gut. I am using bacterial strains found in the healthy human gut and determining which strains can metabolize azo dyes. Once I have determined the bacterial strains that can metabolize the dyes, my goal is to analyze what products are being created and looking at their molecular structures to determine their effects on our intestinal cells. I hope to further the understanding of azo dye metabolism by our gut bacteria and how these metabolites could affect human health.                                                                                                       

Motto: "If you always keep both feet planted firmly on the ground, you'll have trouble putting your pants on"
Hobbies: hiking, swimming, playing guitar, and hanging out with dogs

elderr@uoguelph.ca

Sarah Vancuren

M.Sc. Candidate

It has been shown that the gut microbiomes of western populations have over time become less diverse than that of our ancestors and traditional hunter-gatherer groups that remain isolated, such as the Yanomami in Venezuela, or the Tunapuco in Peru. The ‘missing microbe hypothesis’ postulates that this loss in microbiota is influencing the rise of diseases such as diabetes, obesity, and inflammatory bowel disease, which are rarely seen in traditional populations. My project will use the Robogut system to model traditional gut ecosystems to culture and isolate as many species as possible, using stool samples obtained from traditional groups to seed it. The microbes that are not commonly found in the gut microbiome profiles of western populations can then be characterized to determine their biological importance. This project will also determine if these missing microbes could provide additional functionality to the western gut, which could be used in potential therapeutics to address conditions caused by gut microbiome dysbiosis. These questions can be investigated by studying the community dynamics, such as metabolic output, of western-like gut communities on the Robogut platform that are supplemented with microbes of interest. The results of this project will help us better understand the historic role of the human gut microbiome, and if re-introducing lost species could improve the functionality of the gut microbiome of westernized populations.

Motto: "Just keep swimming!"

Hobbies: "Reading, re-watching The Office or Doctor Who, knitting"

svancure@uoguelph.ca


Michelle Daigneault
M.Sc., Research Tech.
Michelle contributes her considerable technical expertise to all of the projects within the lab, and also oversees the work to culture, characterize and archive novel bacterial species from the human gut. If you don't know how to culture a microbe, ask Michelle, as she probably does!
Motto: "Hakuna matata" 
Hobbies: Volleyball, addictive TV shows, more volleyball ...
mdaignea@uoguelph.ca
 

Chris Ambrose
Lab Manager

Chris does all the things that keep the lab running smoothly, including animal work, biosafety, purchasing and accounting, shipping and receiving paperwork, due diligence and maintenance & repair of equipment. He also is the go-to person for batch and chemostat fermentation method development.
Motto: "If you're not going to do it right, don't bother!"
Hobbies: Watching bad reality TV shows, wind-gazing, fixing stuff. 
cambrose@uoguelph.ca   x 58007