Student Hosted Colloquia: Professor Emily Balskus, Harvard University, Sapp Center Lecture Hall, 4:30pm (Host: Steven Shuken)
About the Seminar:
"Deciphering the human microbiome using chemistry"
The human body is colonized by trillions of microorganisms that exert a profound influence on human biology, in part by providing functional capabilities that extend beyond those of host cells. In particular, there is growing evidence linking chemical processes carried out by the microbial inhabitants of the gastrointestinal tract to both health and disease. However, we still do not understand the vast majority of the molecular mechanisms underlying this phenomenon. A major reason for this knowledge gap is the difficulty of linking functions associated with the human gut microbiome to specific microbial genes and enzymes. This talk will discuss my lab’s efforts to discover, characterize, and manipulate new gut microbial enzymes and metabolic pathways, including transformations that produce disease-associated small molecules. Gaining a molecular understanding of gut microbial enzymes will not only enhance our ability to identify the genes encoding metabolic activities in microbiome sequencing data, but will also help to elucidate the mechanisms by which these organisms affect human biology. This knowledge will also enable the development of chemical approaches to alter gut microbial metabolism. Together, our work could ultimately impact the fields of nutrition, diagnostics, and medicine.
About the Speaker:
Emily graduated from Williams College in 2002 with highest honors in chemistry. After spending a year at the University of Cambridge as a Churchill Scholar, she pursued graduate studies in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology (CCB) at Harvard University, receiving her PhD in 2008. Her graduate work with Prof. Eric Jacobsen focused on asymmetric catalysis and natural product total synthesis. From 2008–2011 she was an NIH postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School in the lab of Prof. Christopher T. Walsh where she studied the biosynthesis of small molecule sunscreens by photosynthetic bacteria. She participated in the Microbial Diversity Summer Course at the Marine Biology Lab at Woods Hole during the summer of 2009. In 2011 Emily joined the CCB faculty and is currently the Morris Kahn Associate Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology.