About This Project
The human gut is full of bacteria, and in recent years it's been revealed these little creatures are instrumental in our health, with potential to influence mental health.
We are assembling the largest cohort to date (500 people) to survey the connection between human gut bacteria and behavior. Specifically, we are curious if bacteria are associated with depression and anxiety. Help us find out -- please donate or share our story!
Ask the ScientistsJoin The Discussion
What is the context of this research?
If one were to count the number of bacteria that live on our skin or inside our bodies (our "microbiota"), our microbes would outnumber our own cells 3:1. An important home for these bacteria is our gut, where most of our microbiota lives.
Fascinatingly, in mice, the gut microbiota has been shown to influence brain development, mood, behavior, and symptoms of autisms. This begs us to ask its role in humans.
Unfortunately, the proper experiments in humans are sorely lacking. With your help, we will hone in on depression and anxiety, asking the question "are microbes correlated to depression or anxiety?" With an expert team, we will explore this possibility, which may allow us to design microbiota-based therapeutics to combat mental health disorders.
What is the significance of this project?
Anyone reading this knows someone who is depressed or suffers from severe anxiety. In the U.S. alone, the CDC estimates that 1:10 adults suffers from depression and about 1:5 experiences severe anxiety. Both diseases can last a lifetime and be completely debilitating.
Recent research of the human microbiota has not only highlighted the importance of our microbes in our daily lives and health, but also encouraged translation of the findings into therapeutics ventures (e.g. Seres Health, Vedanta, and MicroBiome Therapeutics).
It is possible that some day we might have therapeutics designed around our microbiota to combat mental health disorders, but we need to do the proper research first. In this project, we hope to begin that effort!
What are the goals of the project?
We are at an incredible time in the field of microbiome research in which we have the tools to connect our microbes and their functions with health and disease. Using these tried and true experiments, we will try to identify microbial signatures associated with depression and anxiety.
First we plan to assemble the largest cohort to date surveying human gut bacteria and behavior (500 people).
Second we will identify microbial signatures (specific bacteria, small molecules they produce, or genes they have expressed) correlated with depression and anxiety.
Third, we test these correlations for causation, by introducing these linked-microbial signatures in mice.
The gut-microbe-brain-axis is an evolving field. We have the collaborations and the experimental means to test our hypotheses, but we don't have the funding to do those experiments. However, with your help we can make these experiments happen!
We have three milestones for our funding:
Milestone 1: $50,000 (Cohort recruitment, 16S sequencing, and metabolomics) -- Do depressed/anxious people have different gut bacteria than healthy people? What small molecules of microbial origin might be influencing symptoms?
Milestone 2: $75,000 (Transcriptomics) -- What are these bacteria actively doing? What genes do they have turned on?
Milestone 3: $150,000 (Mouse models) -- Can we transfer these behaviors to mice via introduction of microbial signatures associated with depression/anxiety?
Importantly, 100% of the funds raised in this project will go directly to the experiments (no salaries, overhead, etc).
Meet the Team
Philip Strandwitz -- a PhD candidate focused on studying the role of the gut microbiome to behavior. He's presented his work at a number of fancy academic conferences, including a Keystone meeting, Boston Bacterial Meeting at Harvard, and the American Society of Microbiology - General Meeting. His passion is trying to turn out bugs into therapeutics for mental health disorders.
Kim Lewis -- A world-renowned expert in drug discovery. Kim recently led the efforts to identify the novel Antibiotic Teixobactin. Kim gets to boss Phil around.
Rob Knight -- Considered one of the top microbiome researchers in the world, and the co-founder of the non-profit microbiome sequencing company American Gut. To help disseminate the potential of the microbiome, Rob has wrote the book "Follow your Gut" as well as given a Ted talk.
Lisa Barrett -- One of the top researchers of human emotion, Lisa has multiple publications in high impact journals. She also recently wrote a fascinating response regarding recent concerns of reproduciblity in science, published in the New York Times!
Pieter Dorrestein -- An expert in biochemistry, Pieter recently led the herculean efforts to map all small molecules on our skin. He also was selected to receive the prestigious John Jacob Abel Award in Pharmacology
Originally from beautiful Wisconsin, my passion for research and dream of starting a biotechnology have led me to Boston for my graduate studies. Here, I am fortunate enough to work at Northeastern University in Dr. Kim Lewis' lab studying the impact our gut bacteria have on our mood and behavior.
Press and Media
A recent write-up on our efforts from NEU! I had nothing to do with the title, but it's great!
One exciting component of our research is that much of our data will be generated in collaboration with the American Gut (AG) and the Global Natural Products Social Molecular Networking (GNPS) platform.
These collaborations will allow for open-access of our data, and that, coupled with the generality of our psychological survey data, will allow for other researchers to use our data set as a basis to ask other fascinating questions -- for example is there is a connection between our gut bacteria and emotional reactivity, outlook on life, or even happiness?
In other news...my lab has been in the news for our antibiotic discovery efforts! Check out our recent findings with Teixobactin!
While rare, we do occasionally find ourselves outside the lab...Here is a photo of my group, out for a beach day at Cape Cod! I spent the day diving and digging in the ocean for rocks, while my lab mates laughed at me on the beach, soaking up the sun.
- $2,381Total Donations
- $74.41Average Donation