Mostly Biomathematics Lunchtime Seminar

Ecology of the microbiome: better theory can inform future therapies

Speaker: Jonas Schluter, NYU Langone Health, Institute for Systems Genetics, Dept. Microbiology

Location: Warren Weaver Hall 1314

Date: Tuesday, April 4, 2023, 12:45 p.m.


The human gut harbors a large and complex ecosystem of beneficial microbes that remain stable over long periods---I will show some data on this from lab mice that were released into the wild. In humans, this stability is considered critical for good health but how it comes about is poorly understood. Theory from community ecology can help conceptualize dynamics that favor stability. For example, equilibrium community stability can be analyzed with tools from linear stability analysis. We apply these approaches to better understand the drivers of microbiome stability. Our previous work has shown that cooperating networks of microbes can be efficient, but we find that they are often unstable. Counterintuitively, this finding indicates that hosts can benefit from microbial competition when this competition dampens cooperative networks and increases stability. More generally, stability is promoted by limiting positive feedbacks and weakening ecological interactions. We have analyzed host mechanisms for maintaining stability-including immune suppression, spatial structuring, and feeding of community members. We are now interested in a potential flip side of this stability: increased volatility during dynamic recovery after perturbations.