Alton Gayton

Alton Gayton

Alton Gayton, a senior biochemistry major at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, induced and characterized bacteriophages from bacteria associated with Inflammatory Bowel Disease.

The human gut microbiome is critical to human health as it performs many metabolic mechanisms, protects the host from pathogen colonization, and facilitates the development of immunity throughout life.

The experiences I had this summer, as well as the friendships I made, are ones that will last a lifetime. Through BSRP, I was able to conduct exciting new research, take risks, and grow as a scientist. A great scientist excels both at research and effective communication. By creating an intentional environment filled with world-class mentors, state-of-the-art equipment, and cutting-edge research, BSRP equips students with the tools to become great scientists.Changes in gut community abundances and diversity have been associated with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a term that includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, two diseases which describe chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. From 1999 to 2015, more than 1 million people were diagnosed with IBD in the United States, and the number continues to grow as the cause of IBD remains unknown. We aimed to investigate how bacteriophages and the microbial environment impact the development or mitigation of IBD. Ruminococcus gnavus, an anaerobic bacteria known to bloom in cases of active IBD, had no previously characterized bacteriophages. Leveraging in silico analyses, hypothetical prophages were identified and aligned within the genomes clinical R.gnavus isolates from the stool of IBD patients. We expanded our search to include phages in Enterococcus gallinarum, a bacteria related to Enterococcus faecalis. E.faecalis has been observed to bloom in patients with IBD. Previously, it was unknown if E.gallinarum had inducible lysogenic phages. We induced putative phages from R.gnavus and E.gallinarum using hydrogen peroxide and mitomycin C. We used PCR to confirm induction of these phages and electron microscopy to characterize their physical properties Our research may inform future treatment strategies such as phage cocktails or phage-specific inducers, with the aim of controlling IBD-associated bacteria levels in the gut.


Project: A tale of two phages: expression and characterization of bacteriophages from bacteria associated with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Mentors: Doug Kenny and Zach Costliow, Xavier Lab (Metabolomics)