Ian O’Neill

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 Ian O’Neill

Research title: Exploring the role of bifidobacterial human milk oligosaccharide metabolism in shaping the early life microbiota.

Project Summary: The infant gut microbiota plays an important role in immune development and health throughout life, and diet is a key driver of infant gut microbiota composition. Breast-fed infants have a less diverse microbiota composition, dominated by certain members of the genus Bifidobacterium, compared to formula fed-infants who have a more diverse and adult-like composition. Metabolism of human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) present in breast milk by Bifidobacterium account (at least partially) for high abundance of this genus in infants. HMO metabolism by bifidobacteria is both strain- and species-specific, but only a small number of strains have been tested for each species. Furthermore, there is essentially no information on HMO metabolism by other microbiota members.

Project aims: 1) Isolate bifidobacteria from faeces of mother-infant pairs. 2) Characterise general HMO metabolism in human-associated Bifidobacterium species/strains, and 3) investigate HMO metabolism in a complex microbial environment to identify other HMO metabolising bacteria.

He received his PhD from University College Cork, Ireland, and also holds a MSc in Computational biology from University of Manchester, UK. He held a postdoc position in Quadram Institute Bioscience, Norwich, UK in Dr Lindsay Hall’s lab researching Bifidobacterium-host interactions. Prior to receiving his APEX fellowship, he worked as a postdoc with work with Prof Douwe van Sinderen focusing on genomics of bifidobacteria.