News FocusProfile: Ruth Ley

Gut Reactions

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Science  29 May 2009:
Vol. 324, Issue 5931, pp. 1136-1137
DOI: 10.1126/science.324_1136

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Summary

Ruth Ley is part of a new generation of microbiologists trained in genomics, ecology, and bioinformatics that is helping to pull medical microbiology out of a long-standing rut. In that field, most research had focused on the few pathogens that could be grown in the lab and disregarded the rest. Ley and her colleagues demonstrated that individuals vary in the repertoire of microorganisms they host—and that those variations can affect health and disease. They discovered a link between obesity and the gut flora of mice and humans, and they traced the evolution of gut communities, showing the effects of phylogeny, diet, and other factors on the makeup of those communities. Now an assistant professor at Cornell University, Ley is studying bacteria associated with maize roots to try to tease apart how a host's genotype affects the genetic makeup of its microbial partners.