Jeffrey I. Gordon, MD, is expanding our understanding of human health into nonhuman realms, studying the bacteria that take up residence in the gut and help define who we become. Indeed, this research suggests you are what you — and your microbes — eat.
The isolated living spaces of laboratory mice, especially those born with no exposure to bacteria, are a far cry from the way people actually live, whether home is in the suburbs of the American Midwest, the urban slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh, or the rural villages of Malawi. Nevertheless, studies of such mice — and the human gut bacteria they are given — have shed light on two of the major public health crises of our time — obesity and childhood malnutrition.
Spearheading efforts to understand the human gut microbiome is renowned researcher Jeffrey I. Gordon, MD, of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Gordon has been called the father of this field as well as, arguably, the most influential human microbiome scientist working today. Along with talented students and colleagues, Gordon has harnessed the power of speciaized mouse models to study the microbial communities that colonize the human gut. Over the past 20 years, this work has revolutionized our understanding of human biology, implicating the gut’s microbial residents in orchestrating healthy growth and development when these communities work well, and in causing disease when they do not.
Gordon, the Dr. Robert J. Glaser Distinguished University Professor, directs the School of Medicine’s Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology. Over more than two decades, Gordon’s research has evolved from studying gut development from a human perspective to demonstrating that the human gut and its resident bacteria can’t be understood in isolation. Gordon often speaks of the gut’s nonhuman residents — the microbiota — as a microbial organ. Like the body’s other organs, Gordon has shown, the microbiota performs specific and vital functions. Without healthy development of the tens of trillions of microbes that make up this organ, the human gut does not work as it should. And this may have lifelong consequences.
The original article was published at Washington University’s The Source and written by Julia Evangelou Strait: The father of the microbiome