Clayton Lab

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About Our Lab

The Clayton lab resides within Allwine Hall at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Our research is focused on understanding host-microbiome interactions in humans and nonhuman primates. Particularly, we have interest in understanding the microbiota-gut-brain axis. We perform in vitro and in vivo work, handling gastrointestinal related samples for anaerobic and aerobic culturing, next-generation sequencing determination of microorganisms, germ-free mice models, and work associated with Nebraska Food for Health in Lincoln. At UNO, Marmoset models are used for studying the effects of dietary variation and lifestyle factors on the microbiome, and metabolic health. The overarching goal of our research is to better human lives by gaining an understanding of how the microbiome can affect behavior and health.

Let's talk about the microbiota-gut-brain-axis!

Did you know there are over ten times more microorganisms living within your body than your own cells? This includes a vast array of bacteria, eukaryotes, archaea, and viruses. These organisms are so small, that even in such large quantities they only take up 1-3% of our total body mass, or 2-6 lbs of bacteria per 200 lb adult! While many bacteria and viruses know to the majority are those that cause us harm, the bacteria within our internal ecosystem provide essential functions for keeping us healthy and happy. This includes producing vitamins, breaking down food, teaching and assisting our immune systems, and some studies have found the microbiome to be fundamental to serotonin production. As more attention is drawn to the importance of microbiome research, the more we are unveiling its roles in fitness, diet, mood, and behavior. A happy wife, no ... a happy gut makes a happy life!

What is the PMP?

The PMP aims to collect and sequence gut microbial communities from primates covering the entire tree of primate evolution. We will then integrate other important information regarding sampled individuals’ diet, health, ancestry, and other factors to better understand the roles of microbes in primate health, evolution, behavior, and conservation. Some example expected impacts of the PMP lying in these four core areas of focus are as follows.

 

Health
  • Microbes can act as indicators for health of the host, and we expect that broad primate microbiome surveys will allow us to develop predictive biomarkers for certain primate diseases.

  • Primates are the closest animal models to humans, and understanding what drives the structure and variation of their microbiota will help us understand our own.

  • Health and pathogen resistance in primates have direct links to human health, for example in the case of simian immunodeficiency virus.

 

Evolution
  • Broad sampling of microbiota across the tree of primate life will help improve our understanding of the co-evolution of host and microbes in primates.

  • The gut microbiota may have played an important role in primate specialization of diet and gut physiology; the PMP aims to determine this role.

 

Behavior
  • Gut-brain communication is well established in other animal models. By collecting longitudinal and cross-sectional gut microbiome samples while tracking feeding and social behavior of individual animals, the PMP will allow us to determine how microbes may influence primate behavior.

 

Conservation
  • Some endangered primate species fail to thrive in captivity due to gastrointestinal issues; through comparison of wild and captive animals within the same species the PMP will determine whether shifts in gut microbiota are linked with gastrointestinal health in captivity.

  • Primates can act as sentinels for unhealthy shifts in their habitat ecosystems; the PMP will help determine if shifts in their gut microbiota accompany increased stress or other health issues related to habitat encroachment.

Ongoing Research

In addition to experiments related to the nonhuman primate microbiome and gut-brain axis, the Clayton lab maintains several ongoing collaborations with labs across the globe. Many of these are routed through the Primate Microbiome Project, looking at sequencing data from samples collected near and far. While others are maintained with Dr. Clayton's connections at the University of Minnesota, as well as, the Nebraska Food for Health center in Lincoln, Nebraska. The core of all ongoing projects is the microbiome, with focus on understanding what health and neurological roles each organism identified in collected samples have. We are very excited to have a newly renovated lab space at UNO that is on its way to having it's own anaerobic chamber, among other shiny new toys. Day to day we spend our time isolating DNA, culturing microorganisms, interacting and caring for the Marmoset colony, and processing data through bioinformatic processes.