Diet plays a critical role in shaping the early life microbiota, and we have a number of projects seeking to understand the mechanisms underpinning diet-Bifidobacterium interactions.
We are interested in understanding how breast-feeding impacts the early life microbiota. Bifidobacterium species and strains are found at high levels in breast-fed infants; whereas levels are markedly reduced in formula-fed infants. The presence of bifidobacteria at birth (and throughout early life) influences the wider bacterial ecosystem leading to a ‘healthy’ microbiota that can be maintained into adulthood. Using in vitro and in vivo systems, we are seeking to identify the key genetic and metabolic signatures involved in this process, to ultimately develop an enhanced formula that more closely mimics mums’ milk and provide the health benefits children receive when breast-fed.
We are also taking a global genomics approach to bifidobacterial-diet evolutionary processes. We are using wet and dry lab tools to understand how different Bifidobacterium species and strains have evolved the ability to digest different dietary components, including components of breast milk (i.e. human milk oligosaccharides), and plant and bacterial polysaccharides. As part of these studies we are isolating and characterising Bifidobacterium from different hosts, both humans and animals.