The first awardees for the pilot project grant program from The Alkek Center for Metagenomics and Microbiome Research at Baylor College of Medicine have been announced.

The grants were open to BCM instructors, assistant professors and postdoctoral associates. Six researchers were chosen for the Microbiota Association Discovery award of $20,000 or the Host-Commensal Interaction Study award of $50,000.

"The grants were created to support preliminary studies for faculty who are looking to begin, or pursue deeper exploration into microbiome associations with their area of research or clinical interest," said Dr. Joseph Petrosino, assistant professor of molecular virology and microbiology at BCM and Director of the CMMR. "We hope this push will give our researchers the footing they need to create collaborative projects that will not only further the goals of the department and college, but also lead to data that will be used for future grants and publications."


Dr. Melissa Ramocki, assistant professor in pediatrics - neurology – Organismal Shift in the MECP2 Duplication Syndrome.

The goal of this project is to examine how the health and susceptibility to infection of those with MECP2 duplication syndrome are affected by others. People with this disorder can suffer from regression in developmental abilities, recurrent respiratory infections and chronic gastrointestinal disorders. They are also more susceptible to atypical bacterial and viral infections. People with this disorder and their families will be monitored and tested over a period of time.

Dr. Radhika Ganu, postdoctoral associate in Dr. Kjersti Aagaard’s lab in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology – The Human Placental Microbiome and Risk of Preterm Birth.

The goal of this project will be to examine the microbiome (the genetic elements of the microorganisms that reside within our intestines, skin and other parts of our body, which can indicate a healthy or diseased area within the body) of the placenta and determine how that affects the occurrence of spontaneous preterm birth. Researchers will also look at how the mother’s genome affects the microbial community structure within the mother and child. As a result of this study, researchers hope to develop methodologies for understanding the role of placental microbiome in relation to risk of preterm birth.

Dr. Mohan Pammi, assistant professor in pediatrics – Cutaneous Fungal Microbiome in Preterm Infants.

The goal of this project is to understand why some preterm infants are at more risk of developing Candida infections – a type of yeast infection on the skin or intestinal tract. Researchers will look at the microbiome on the skin of preterm infants to determine if the absence of a stable fungal skin microbiome predisposes babies to this type of infection.

Dr. Anthony Maresso, assistant professor in molecular virology and microbiology – Heme Catabolites as Modulators of Intestinal Communities.

This project will work to determine if bilirubin (a product that results from the degradation of a portion of hemoglobin, of which elevated levels may indicate certain diseases) induce changes in the community structure of the gut microbiome that promotes bacterial infections. Researchers hope to understand the factors and conditions that predispose people to intestinal infections.

Dr. Mary Estes, professor in molecular virology and microbiology – Human Intestinal Stem Cell Organoids for Understanding Enteric Commensal-Pathogen-Host Interactions.

This project will use a new organoid culture system from human stem cells to established conditions to infect and monitor replication of enteric (related to the intestines) rotaviruses in epithelial cells (epithelial tissues line the cavities and surfaces of structures throughout the body). This study will, among other things, establish a new platform for evaluating new antimicrobial therapies and reveal why epithelial interactions with commensal bacteria (harmless bacteria) and rotavirus cause minimal intestinal inflammation compared to interactions with bacteria.

Dr. Margaret Conner, associate professor in molecular virology and microbiology – Relationships Between Microbiota and Acute Viral Infection.

This project will work to determine whether acute enteric virus infection induces lasting changes in intestinal microbiota (the microscopic organisms living within a particular region) structure and whether the microbiota affect induction and maintenance of a certain type of protective immunity to the enteric virus. These findings will be able to improve or help develop vaccines, therapeutics and probiotics.