A vast number of bacteria, viruses, and fungi inhabit the inner and outer body surfaces, such as the intestine, the airways and the skin, of all healthy mammals and contribute to host physiology (digestion, vitamin production, immune maturation). These microbes are referred to as the commensal microbiota. Colonization with microbiota starts at birth when the neonate leaves the sterile environment of the uterus. Throughout the last decade, it became apparent that events and environmental conditions during these early years, such as birth mode, feeding regime or geographic location, are very important factors that can have a long-term effect on the host immune system. Recently, we were able to show that even the maternal microbiota during pregnancy can beneficially shape the neonatal immune system of the offspring. The period covering conception, fetal development and early life is thus often called the “window of opportunity”.
In our lab, we are investigating the role of the commensal microbiota and environmental factors during early life and try to understand how these can contribute to the maturation of the host immune system and to other processes in the mammalian body. Our focus lies on the application of axenic and gnotobiotic models in combination with immunological, microbiological, epigenetic, and state-of-the-art next-generation sequencing techniques (RNA-Seq, single cell analysis, Ig repertoire sequencing, ChIP-Seq).