Cells of a bacterium under the microscope, and a diagram of its interaction with the human gut.

CSUN microbiologist Gilberto Flores receives NIH funding to study how bacteria help us get the most out of milk

CSUN Associate Professor of Biology Gilberto Flores received a big new grant from the National Institutes of Health this summer, which will support his lab’s continuing study of a bacterium that may help humans digest milk.

The four year, $1.4 million grant focuses on Akkermansia muciniphila, a potentially therapeutic bacterium commonly found in the human gut microbiome. Akkermansia muciniphila is capable of digesting human milk sugars, which may make it a beneficial member of the microbial community in our guts — but research to date has been focused on a single strain of the bacterium, which could be unrepresentative of the species.

The new funding support will let the Flores Lab investigate how multiple, genomically diverse strains of Akkermansia degrade human milk oligosaccharides, and how they respond to stress caused by bile, a major feature of the gut environment. Better understanding the range of physiological performance in this lineage of gut bacteria will open new horizons for biologically informed treatment strategies that promote or introduce select Akkermansia strains for optimal health outcomes.

Image: Cells of Akkermansia muciniphila (left) and a diagram of its possible interactions in the human gut (right) from the graphical abstract of a microbe profile by Willem M. de Vos.