2014 Achieving Excellence

Listening to your gut (microbes)

Vanessa Ridaura

Vanessa Ridaura, PhD, a graduate student in molecular genetics and genomics, will leave the university with an honor that recognizes a graduate student whose laboratory endeavors bridge basic research and clinical medicine.

Winner of the David M. Kipnis Award in Biomedical Sciences from Washington University, Ridaura spent five years working in the laboratory of renowned gut microbe scientist Jeffrey I. Gordon (in photo above), who directs the Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology. Gut microbes help to digest food, synthesize vitamins and nutrients, and shape the immune system.

Her research with Gordon provides compelling evidence that gut microbes play a role in obesity and offers clues to preventing massive weight gain. Their discoveries set the stage for developing next-generation probiotics that could be added to foods to treat or prevent obesity.

Ridaura is headed to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a prestigious four-year postdoctoral fellowship in the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. There, she’ll be studying how microbes that live in the gut and those that reside on the skin influence the way the immune system works.

“As humans, we have a very intimate connection with the microbes that live in and on our bodies,” Ridaura said. “In fact, we couldn’t live without them. At the NIH, I want to find out how particular microbes influence the immune system and determine whether it’s possible to genetically alter microbes as a treatment for disease.”

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