Microbiomes have been proposed to regulate many aspects of animal physiology and dysregulated microbiomes are known to contribute to numerous pathologies in humans. Despite these findings, many of the molecular mechanisms by which bacteria can influence host physiology remain unknown. In an effort to identify novel molecular mechanisms by which bacteria can promote normal animal physiology my lab has established a high-throughput screening platform using the model animal C. elegans that can screen 1,500 individual bacterial isolates per week for effects on animal physiology. Using this platform, we have now identified multiple new species of bacteria that restore normal physiology in mutant models of human disease. Furthermore, using transposon screening, we have begun to uncover some of the mechanisms bacteria use to mediate these effects on animals. In the long-term we aim to test if such mechanisms are evolutionarily conserved in bacteria that colonize human microbiomes or if such mechanisms can be adapted to treat human disease.
Dr. Nick Burton explores how chromatin remodeling contributes to human disease and how a person’s environment can impact their health and the health of their offspring. Recently, this work has become particularly interested in the diverse ways microbes and the microbiome can influence these processes. He earned a B.S. in biology from University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he worked in the labs of both Dr. Anna Huttenlocher and Dr. Scott Kennedy. He was then awarded a graduate research fellowship from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and earned a Ph.D. in biology from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he studied under the mentorship of Dr. H. Robert Horvitz. As part of his dissertation work, Dr. Burton sought to develop new paradigms to study the mechanisms by which parental environment regulates offspring physiology. In 2017, he joined the Centre for Trophoblast Research at University of Cambridge as an independent Next Generation Fellow. While there, he investigated how environmental bacteria can affect development, physiology, metabolism and neuronal function of individuals and their offspring. In 2021, he joined Van Andel Institute as an assistant professor in the Department of Epigenetics.
(Area of expertise: Epigenetics, intergenerational inheritance, C. elegans, metabolism, host-microbe interactions)