My research is motivated by my interest in harnessing large, untargeted biological data to better understand, predict, and monitor human disease. More broadly, I’m interested in using personalized medicine approaches for public health.
My main project so far has been a large meta-analysis of case-control gut microbiome datasets across multiple disease states. We found generalizable insights about patterns of disease-associated microbiome shifts: it turns out that you can characterize disease-associated microbiome shifts by their extent (how many bacteria are changed) and directionality (whether you have too many “bad” bacteria or not enough “good” bacteria). Also, we showed that most disease-associated bacteria in individual studies are not specific to one disease. This means that finding an association in one study really isn’t enough to identify putative biomarkers or causal mechanisms, and we’ll need to work harder to validate our findings with experiments and further meta-analyses.
I learned a lot about data collection and processing from this project, and have put the raw processed data on Zenodo. I also used this project as an opportunity to practice reproducible, open science, and I’m proud that every analysis in the paper can be re-made with the code on my github. I also wrote a blog post talking about my experience writing this paper on Nature Microbiology’s behind the paper blog series.
I’m also starting to think about how to use untargeted serum metabolomics to diagnose disease. We’re hoping to approach untargeted metabolomics with the same “quick, dirty, and good enough” spirit that next-generation sequencing bioinformaticians took to revolutionize genomics. (Shh… don’t tell your analytical chemist friends!)
I also work on some other projects around the lab. I’ve done work on the Underworlds project in our lab, mining sewage for useful public health information. Soon we’ll be starting to look at antibiotics and antibiotic resistance genes in sewage to better understand how they spread in the environment and how humans affect that spread. I’m also analyzing a clinical collaborator’s dataset of lung, stomach, and throat microbiomes of over 200 pediatric patients with various aerodigestive conditions.
Finally, I’m interested in tool development. I’ve contributed significantly to our in-house 16S processing pipeline (yo and check out those docs tho!), to the re-implementation of distribution-based OTU clustering, and to a method to correct for batch effects across case-control microbiome studies.