2015 Awards

Spring 2015 Graduate & Professional Student Research Grantees

Title: "Immigrant Microbiome Project: Characterization of the obesogenic gut microbiome among Somali Immigrants"

Amount Awarded: $9,926.00

Timeframe: June 1, 2015 - May 31, 2016

PI: Pajau Vangay, Biomedical Informatics and Computational Biology, Ph.D Program (2013 - 2017), Computer Science and Engineering Department, College of Science and Engineering

Advisor: Dan Knights, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Science and Engineering and the Biotechnology Institute, College of Science and Engineering, U of M

Abstract: Immigrants in the US, such as the Somali in Minnesota, are developing chronic "new world" diseases such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease at alarming rates. Recent studies indicate that the trillions of bacteria living in the intestines, known as the gut microbiome, play an important role in many of these "new world" diseases, including potential causal roles in obesity. An individual's resident gut microbes are partly dependent on dietary and environmental exposures, and yet can also be a causal factor in disease. A drastic and permanent change in dietary and environmental exposures, characteristic of immigration, could lead to disruption of gut homeostasis. This project will test the hypotheses that immigration from developing countries to the US induces loss of important microbial members in the native gut microbiome, predisposing the host to obesity, and that increasing dietary fiber intake supports maintenance of the native microbiome. Our study analyzes bacterial taxonomic marker genes from stool samples in 80 Somali women stratified by body mass index and years spent in the US. We will also evaluate the effect of increased dietary fiber consumption in reversing the effects of dietary changes and through changes in microbial composition and metabolite profiles in the gut microbiome. Our collaboration with the Somali, Latino and Hmong (SoLaHmo) Partnership for Health and Wellness at West Side Community Health Services provides an unparalleled opportunity to partner and conduct multi-community research with the Somali communities in Minnesota. We expect the results from this study to provide novel insights into how the gut microbiome and host metabolism change after immigration, determine whether dietary fiber consumption can minimize these changes, and lay the groundwork for future therapeutics and community dietary practice interventions to prevent obesity in immigrant and refugee populations.