Stanford University
Postdoctoral Scholars

Meet the Berry Fellows

Elizabeth K. Costello

Current Location:

Year: 20

Department/Division: Microbiology and Immunology

Faculty Mentor: David Relman, MD

Project Title: Effects of antibiotic disturbance on the earliest stages of gut microbiome development

Project Lay Statement: During birth and rapidly thereafter, microbes from a variety of sources colonize the infant gastrointestinal tract until dense, complex communities are established. Changes in the types and abundances of microbes composing these communities are most marked in early developmental stages and can have important consequences for infant nutrition, pathogen resistance, and the education of the immune system. During this time, deviations from the normal development of the gut microbiota may affect child health. Antibiotic disruption of the native microbiota is implicated in a wide range of human disease, including Clostridium difficile colitis and other acute and chronic forms of diarrhea. Longer-term consequences, such as childhood asthma and allergies have also been linked to antibiotic use early in life.

Surprisingly, we lack a clear understanding of the direct effects of antibiotics on the developing gut microbiota of children. In part, this is because until recently, methods capable of detecting the signature of disturbance in complex microbial communities were unavailable. Here, we propose using newly available high­ throughput DNA sequencing approaches to quantify the extent and duration of antibiotic perturbation of the gut microbiota in young children. We will learn whether antibiotics alter or delay development towards an adult community profile and whether these patterns vary from child to child. Ultimately, we hope to begin to understand how to predict health-related consequences of childhood microbial community disturbance. This research will lay important groundwork for technological advances aimed at diagnosing, treating, and preventing childhood microbial imbalances in the gastrointestinal tract.

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