Scientist

About me

DSC00330I am currently a PhD student and NSF fellow in the MCO program at Harvard.  As of August 2016, I am pursuing thesis research on gut microbes and nutrition in the Balskus lab in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. Though I now have the honor to work in some of the world’s finest laboratories, my first experiments were done in the kitchen, mixing solutions, testing cooking temperatures, and tending microbial communities in sourdough starters. Because cooking was what first catalyzed my interest in science, my scientific research has always focused on food, from the processing in the kitchen, to the digestion in our bodies. Long-term, I hope to answer fundamental questions about biochemistry, inform new approaches to human nutrition, and contribute innovative models for STEM-education.

Research abstract

F1.largeThe human gastrointestinal (GI) tract harbors a vast microbial community with a collective genome size 150 times larger than the human genome. With such metabolic potential, the gut flora can modulate the bioactivity and bioavailability of a wealth of host-derived molecules, including drugs, pollutants and dietary components. However, the biochemical details of these transformations and their biological importance for the individual microorganisms, the microbial community, and the human host, remain poorly understood. My research aims to identify the enzymes and microbes that transform drugs and dietary molecules. At the center of my work is the idea that gut microbes have the ability to transform classes of molecules in similar ways; this means that drugs and dietary molecules that have similar chemical structures will undergo similar transformations in the gut. I combine chemistry, microbiology, and bioinformatics to elucidate the pathways and mechanisms responsible for these transformations, focusing molecules known to be important for human health. By discovering the enzymes and their molecular mechanism, we can manipulate gut microbes on a functional level, for example by inhibiting detrimental pathways and promoting beneficial activities. More broadly, this work will advance our understanding of how drugs and dietary molecules are processed and can guide the development of new dietary and medicinal therapeutics, thus laying the foundation for a new era of personalized nutrition and medicine.

 

Publications

Chemical transformation of xenobiotics by the human gut microbiota. Nitzan Koppel, Vayu Maini Rekdal, Emily P. Balskus. Science. June 23, 2017.

C.difficile exploits a complex metabolic niche associated with microbial dysbiosis in patients with diarrhea. Vanessa Hale, Eric Battaglioli, Jun Chen, Patricio Jeraldo , Vayu Maini Rekdal , Lutfi Huq  Samuel Smits  Sahil Khanna , Darrell Pardi, Madhusudan Grover, Robin Patel, Heidi Nelson, Nicholas Chia, Justin Sonnenburg, Gianrico Farrugia, Purna C Kashyap. Submitted.

Chronic diarrhea in subset of patients with IBD and IBS is associated with altered microbiota. Vayu Maini Rekdal, Mhd Firas Alnahhas, John F. Rainey, Christopher S. Reigstad, Sahil Khanna, Madhusudan Grover, M Donna Felmlee Devine, Nicholas Chia, Edward V. Loftus, Lisa A. Boardman, David A. Ahlquist, Darrell S. Pardi, Gianrico Farrugia, Purna C. Kashyap. Abstract published in Gastroenterology , Volume 146 , Issue 5 , S-83, 2014

A Chef’s Guide to Gelling, Thickening, and Emulsifying Agents. CRC Press, October 2014, Alicia Foundation (http://alicia.cat). I contributed original research and writing to this book, along with other members of the Foundation Alicia team.