PhD Fellowship: Foods to stimulate the metabolism of the human commensal bacteria, Faecalibacterium prausnitzii

The Organisations

AgResearch is a leading Crown Research Institute charged with delivering science and innovation to benefit New Zealand agriculture and its wider economy.  Our internationally recognised scientists are dedicated to this mission and we collaborate with world leading science organisations and universities to achieve exceptional science delivery. We are proud to be unique organisation that is driving prosperity by transforming agriculture to better equip our future generations to come.

 The Riddet Institute is a world-best research centre in food and nutritional sciences, providing fundamental scientific understanding and training for a new generation of science leaders.  The Institute is one of New Zealand’s Centres of Research Excellence (CoRE) and as such, integrates partner organisations (Massey University (host), Auckland and Otago Universities, AgResearch and Plant & Food Research) and disciplines, to lead a “NZ Inc” approach to food research, and to generate new knowledge and capability that will transform New Zealand’s food industry.

 The Role

The human intestine contains 1013 commensal bacteria, with each individual person harbouring around 160 different species from a total pool of over 1000 human-associated bacterial species. One of the most abundant of these is Faecalibacterium prausnitzii (Fp), which is estimated to make up 6-10% of the total bacteria in the colon of healthy adults. Fp is thought to be critical for appropriate intestinal barrier function because there is a reduction in the proportion of Fp in patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and celiac disease compared to healthy controls.

Recently, increasing the abundance of Fp in the colonic microbiota has become the target of much research. A direct approach to achieve this is to deliver Fp in a food format or supplement, but this is challenging because Fp is an obligate anaerobe that cannot survive in the presence of oxygen. Alternatively, an indirect approach is to use a food component that preferentially stimulates the growth and metabolism of endogenous Fp. As an example, in vitro studies have shown that when non-digestible components from both green and gold kiwifruit are inoculated with human microbiota they cause a shift in the microbiota composition, including an increase in the prevalence of Fp. However, it is currently unknown whether merely increasing the growth, and therefore abundance, of Fp is sufficient to result in a beneficial effect on intestinal function.

We propose that specific food components have a role beyond simply being an energy supply for Fp, and instead they alter the metabolism of the bacterium leading to the production of beneficial metabolites. This PhD aims to develop knowledge about how such food-microbiota-host interactions occur, which in the future may be leveraged to develop added-value foods.

 We are seeking an outstanding PhD candidate to test the hypothesis that specific food components stimulate Fp to produce metabolites that have beneficial effects on intestinal barrier integrity and immune tolerance.  This will involve cell culture studies and in vivo studies with mouse/rat models including measuring intestinal epithelial integrity and biomarkers of immune status like toll-like receptor activity at the molecular level.

 Duties

  • Presenting a research seminar and written report to gain confirmation of PhD programme registration one year after starting.
  • Meeting regularly with supervisors to discuss plans and results.
  • Presenting plans for research and experimental protocols to supervisors for review prior to carrying out.
  • Completing experiments using techniques such as anaerobic/aerobic cell culture of bacterial and human cell lines.
  • Completing animal experiments with mouse/rat models including day-to-day handling and terminal blood and tissue sampling.
  • Carrying out data analysis.
  • Writing a PhD thesis, including an extensive literature review, 3-5 research chapters and a general discussion.
  • Submitting manuscripts to journals, including a mini-review article and at least two research articles, before the thesis is submitted.
  • Complying with Health and Safety Policies as set by AgResearch and Massey University, and at all times have consideration for the safety of yourself and others in the workplace.
  • Ensuring legislative compliance, (e.g., Department of Labour, HSNO, EPA Animal Ethics) and appropriate data security.

 About you

You will have:

  • A relevant Masters or Honor’s degree (e.g. biochemistry, protein chemistry, nutrition) with a grade sufficient to gain entry into a PhD.  The qualification must also include a substantive research project.
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills (IELTS score of 6.5 or equivalent required, if English is not first language).
  • Strong analytical and problem solving skills.
  • Diligence, resilience and enthusiasm.
  • Previous experience in microbiology and cell culture is preferred.

 Benefits

The three-year studentship, funded by the Riddet Institute, includes an annual tax-free stipend of NZD$30,000 plus tuition fees. As the successful candidate you will be enrolled Massey University and based at AgResearch Grasslands in Palmerston North, and will

  • have the opportunity to take part in leading edge research;
  • be a part of a successful multidisciplinary research team;
  • develop your career as an independent researcher.

 PhD Supervisors: Professors Warren McNabb and Nicole Roy, and Dr Rachel Anderson.

 How to apply

Closing date for applications is January 7th 2018.

Please send your application in the form of a (1) covering letter addressing why you are the ideal candidate, (2) your CV and (3) your academic transcripts to info@riddet.ac.nz.

Please send any other enquiries that you have about this position to Professor Warren McNabb (W.McNabb@massey.ac.nz).

For further information on postgraduate study at Massey University please see: http://www.massey.ac.nz/massey/postgraduate.

 

Job Description

The aim of this position is to complete a PhD thesis investigating whether specific food components stimulate Faecalibacterium prausnitzii (Fp) to produce metabolites that have beneficial effects on intestinal barrier integrity and immune tolerance.

 In order to be eligible for this position the candidate must meet the Massey University criteria for enrolment in a PhD programme. This includes:

  • A relevant Masters or Honor’s degree (e.g. biochemistry, protein chemistry, nutrition) with a grade sufficient to gain entry into a PhD.  The qualification must also include a substantive research project.
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills (IELTS score of 6.5 or equivalent required, if English is not first language).

 The PhD student’s duties will include:

  • Completing relevant Massey University course(s) deemed necessary by supervisors (depending on previous experience).
  • Presenting a research seminar and written report to gain confirmation of PhD programme registration one year after starting.
  • Meeting regularly with supervisors to discuss plans and results.
  • Presenting plans for research and experimental protocols to supervisors for review prior to carrying out.
  • Completing experiments using techniques such as anaerobic/aerobic cell culture of bacterial and human cell lines.
  • Completing animal experiments with mouse/rat models including day-to-day handling and terminal blood and tissue sampling.
  • Carrying out data analysis.
  • Writing a PhD thesis, including an extensive literature review, 3-5 research chapters and a general discussion.
  • Submitting manuscripts to journals, including a mini-review article and at least two research articles, before the thesis is submitted.
  • Complying with Health and Safety Policies as set by AgResearch and Massey University and at all times have consideration for the safety of yourself and others in the workplace.
  • Ensuring legislative compliance, (e.g., Department of Labour, HSNO, EPA Animal Ethics) and appropriate data security.