focus: Humans


Human Microbiome Research in the Sullivan Lab

The term ‘microbiome’ is now nearly common parlance in popular literature as it has become clear that we (humans) live in partnership with more microbial cells than human cells, and that these microbes play fundamental roles in our bodies from driving our cravings, affecting our behavior, and helping us (in)efficiently digest our food. However, just as in the oceans, it is likely that the human microbiome is drastically impacted by viruses that infect these microbes that also have lifestyles tuned towards altering the human-microbiome ecosystem. Thus it becomes important to not only study pathogens in humans – which is where most medical microbiology has long focused – but also to assess the ecology of our commensal microbes and their viruses. Many labs study the microbes, very few study the viruses of these microbes. Our lab has ported our ‘oceans viral ecogenomics toolkit’ towards the study of viruses in humans, with initial studies focused on how microbiome transplant treatments impact autistic children and how smoking alters the human microbiome and virome.

Key research Qs are largely very basic and exploratory at this stage as virtually nothing is known.

Our current work, heavily collaborative, explores viruses of microbes in the lung and spinal cord injury with OSU collaborators, phage therapy in burn wounds with OSU and KU Leuven collaborators, and novel genomic sequencing technologies with OSU researchers. This work is largely in pilot-stage funding, with the latter work now NIH funded.


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