Post 1: Research and Refining Project (The Microbiota and the Mind)

My research this summer will be focused on the connection between the human microbiome and the brain–more namely, how gut microbes can contribute to the development of neuropsychological diseases like schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorder. While we can’t prove causation yet, scientists have found some really promising correlational evidence in germ-free mice models and humans that the microbial communities of diseased people looks different. I think this topic is extremely important in the scope of public health; understanding how our actions/diet affect our gut microbes (and how important those microbes are for our neural development) can inform how we live on a day-to-day basis and how to best treat neuropsychological diseases.

I’m approaching this project as a literature review of this relatively new scientific field. As I’ve begun reading through scientific articles and books (HIGHLY recommend The Good Gut by Justin Sonnenburg), I realized that there’s a lot of literature out there on the microbiome, but less that directly pertains to my topic. Nonetheless, I’ve really enjoyed my research so far because it’s been so interdisciplinary; I feel like I’m learning more about microbiology, neuroscience, and human physiology at the same time. I’ve read a lot about the microbiome itself and how it’s shaped by our environment as we grow. I’m eager to get into the nitty-gritty of how the brain-gut axis works!

I’ve also decided to change course from my initial final project. Rather than writing a full-blown literature review, I want to focus more on the movement to make science available to the public–I’ll be designing an informative poster and creating a 5-minute video to be entered into the Dana Foundation’s Brain Awareness Week Video Contest next year. I’m excited to challenge myself to communicate my complex topic in a digestible and (hopefully) meaningful way!