Professor, Departments of Pediatrics and Computer Science & Engineering
Director, Center for Microbiome Innovation
University of California, San Diego
Shaping Our Dynamic Microbiomes For Lifelong Health
Our lifespans are ever-increasing, but our healthspans are not, leading to long periods of unpleasant and expensive suffering with chronic conditions. Many of these conditions have recently been linked to the microbiome, via advances in DNA sequencing technology and software to interpret those sequences. We change our microbiomes every day through the foods we eat, the environments we experience, even the people we live and work with. The implications of these changes in the microbiome for our health are just beginning to be understood. And many of the effects are systemic: what happens in the gut doesn’t stay in the gut, and your gut microbiome can affect your liver, your joints, and even your brain. Through the American Gut Project, the largest crowdsourced and crowdfunded citizen-science project yet conducted, we now know about the microbiomes of many types of people, from the healthiest (student-athletes, centenarians) to the sickest (cancer patients, ICU patients, those with depression, those with C. diff). Amazingly, diet has an especially profound effect on our microbiomes, often outweighing the effects of disease or medications. This raises the prospect of a system for real-time analysis of our microbiomes that helps guide our daily decisions in a way that optimizes our microbiomes for extending our health span.
Rob Knight is Professor of Pediatrics and Computer Science & Engineering at the University of California, San Diego, and author of “Follow Your Gut: The Enormous Impact of Tiny Microbes”.
He received a B.Sc. in Biochemistry in 1996 from the University of Otago in his native New Zealand, a PhD in 2001 from Princeton University in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and performed postdoctoral work at the University of Colorado, Boulder before becoming a faculty member in the interdisciplinary BioFrontiers Institute there in 2004. He moved to UC San Diego in 2015 to direct the new Microbiome Initiative.
His work focuses on using readout technologies such as next-generation sequencing to improve our understanding of the structure, function and dynamics of the human microbiome, contributing to the main data analysis in the NIH-funded Human Microbiome Project. He is co-founder of the Earth Microbiome Project and the American Gut Project.
Current research interests include relating the human microbiome to diseases ranging from obesity to mental illness, spatial and temporal mapping of microbial communities on different scales ranging from our bodies to our planet, and developing new data visualization methods that assist in resolving the challenge of microbial “Big Data”.