The Microbial Ecology of the Human Body

A Biological Sciences Seminar by Libusha Kelly

Libusha Kelly, Ph.D.
Department of Systems & Computational Biology
Department of Microbiology & Immunology
Albert Einstein College of Medicine

The microbiome is unique in individuals, associated with numerous diseases, and rapidly changeable by diet. Despite many studies profiling the microbiome in health and disease and insights into how our microbiomes can influence our physiology, to date the only condition for which we use the microbiome as a treatment is recurrent infection with the bacterium Clostridium difficile. I will discuss the promise and current limitations of using the microbiome as a clinical diagnostic and treatment tool. I will argue that we still need discovery-based basic research, particularly when it comes to the viruses that stalk the microbial allies and enemies in our bodies. We recently reported a novel family of tailless viruses that are major unrecognized killers of marine viruses with the Polz lab at MIT. With this work as a foundation, my lab discovered and is characterizing related, broadly distributed, viruses in the human microbiome. In the clinic, we aim to provide patients and their doctors with actionable information about their microbiomes to improve health and treatment plans. We recently reported that the microbiomes of different individuals have different capacities to activate irinotecan, an anti-cancer drug. We linked this differential metabolism to specific microbial carbohydrate active enzymes. We hypothesize that the life-threatening diarrhea that afflicts metastatic colorectal cancer patients who take this drug might also be caused by microbial turnover. We are working with oncologists to analyze the fecal microbiomes and metabolomes of patients receiving irinotecan. Our goal is to provide patients with early warnings that they are likely high irinotecan metabolizers, enabling prophylactic diarrheal treatment and closer monitoring. More broadly, we are constructing a chemical landscape of the gut to identify new microbe/drug/food interactions that influence drug efficacy and toxicity and suggest unrecognized off-target effects driven by microbial activity.

About the Kelly Lab

Event Details


  • Thursday, November 8, 2018 - 10:55am

Room 1005, Roger A. and Helen B. Krone Engineered Biosystems Building (EBB), 950 Atlantic Dr NW, Atlanta, GA 30332

For More Information Contact

Jasmine Martin