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Biological Sciences
Newsmakers

October 2016

IEEE Pulse Profiles Microbial Ecologist Jansson

Janet Jansson

PNNL microbiologist Janet Jansson, a leading international figure in microbiome research, was profiled in the latest issue of the journal IEEE Pulse. "Omics Tech, Gut-on-a-Chip, and Bacterial Engineering" featured three new approaches to studying a suite of gastrointestinal illnesses called inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), which impact at least 1 million Americans and many more worldwide.

In the lead profile, Jansson represented those researchers investigating such diseases by using omics technologies - uncovering the DNA sequences, expressed genes, and metabolite signatures used to reveal links to microbial functions in the gut. At PNNL, she leads research into the microbiome, a term for the collective communities of microbes that reside in many environmental niches, including the human gut and soil.

To address IBD, Jansson's team has collaborated with bioinformaticians to integrate overwhelming amounts of new genetic data, and has published studies comparing healthy microbiomes to those in IBD patients - all with the aim of future diagnostics and potential new therapies, she said.

Six years ago, Jansson was part of a landmark case demonstrating the use of fecal transplantation to counter diseases of the human gut affected by dysfunctional microbial communities. She participated by profiling a patient's gut microbial community both before and after the transplantation.

"In that case, the patient was in really bad shape," Jansson told the journal. She was losing weight, wearing diapers, and unresponsive to antibiotic treatments.

The positive outcome "was a wonderful and rather unusual example of introducing a microbial community into a new environment," said Jansson, "where it was able to establish and have a major impact." Since then fecal transplants have been successful in treating infections by the bacterium Clostridium difficile.

Beyond that, Jansson and her colleagues are investigating the impact of a high-fiber diet on the gut microbiome. Such a diet appears to encourage a higher percentage of beneficial organisms. Her PNNL team uses multi-omics to identify the proteins and metabolites made by those beneficial organisms. Ultimately, she said, a "designer diet" could be used to optimize a person's gut microbiome.

Also featured in the story were two researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard, Donald Ingber (for his "gut-on-a-chip" model of intestinal inflammation and bacterial overload) and Pam Silver (for her her work on engineering bacteria as biomarkers of inflammation).

Jansson got the feature's last word, noting how important it is to address diseases so prevalent in those who follow a Western diet - and how important it is to understand the connection of such diseases to the microbiome.

In the course of the IEEE Pulse feature, she joined the Wyss Institute's Silver in being impressed by the number of disease phenotypes linked to the gut microbiome, pointing to suggestive studies on autism, certain cancers, and rheumatism. Jansson is also leading an investigation funded by the Office of Naval Research on how the gut microbiome influences the brain.


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