Impact of bacterial sialic acid metabolism on gut homeostasis

Lead Research Organisation: University of East Anglia
Department Name: Graduate Office


The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is colonized by a diverse community of microbes catabolizing dietary and host carbohydrates during their expansion within the gut. In particular some gut bacteria have the ability to forage on host glycans provided by the mucus layer via specific glycoside hydrolases. Alterations in mucosal carbohydrate availability impact on the composition of microbial species including enteric pathogens. We recently showed for the first time that some gut symbionts express intramolecular trans-sialidases allowing bacteria to thrive within mucosal environments by scavenging sialic acid from mucus in a form which may not be readily accessible to surrounding bacteria. The PhD project will explore the molecular basis for IT-sialidase mediated metabolism by gut bacteria and how it influences bacterial colonisation and pathogen expansion in the gut. This work will provide molecular targets to devise dietary strategies for reducing or preventing GI infection.

The student will receive expert training in anaerobic microbiology, bacterial infection, heterologous expression, carbohydrate biotransformations, separation and structural characterisation techniques (HPLC, MS- and NMR-based methods), enzymatic assays, bioinformatics and statistical analysis. There will be opportunities to collaborate with structural biologists. The techniques are well-established and there is considerable expertise in conducting research on glycobiology and gut microbiology. This interdisciplinary project will benefit from the established international network of academic and industrial collaborations of the NRP Labs in these areas of research. Training will embrace research practice and theory, management, communication (to scientific and lay audiences), teamwork, and technical writing. The student will present his/her work to internal seminars and to relevant International meetings. The possible commercial issues relating to the impact of this research on human health will be highlighted and the student will be encouraged to present his/her results to the general public.

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
BB/M011216/1 01/10/2015 30/09/2023
1653419 Studentship BB/M011216/1 01/10/2015 30/09/2019 Andrew Bell
Description Microbiology Society - Society Conference Grants - Microbes and Mucosal Surfaces
Amount £300 (GBP)
Funding ID GA000825 
Organisation Microbiology Society 
Sector Learned Society
Country Unknown
Start 06/2018 
End 06/2018
Description Carbohydrate analysis 
Organisation John Innes Centre
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Supervised and coordinated research project
Collaborator Contribution Provided expertise and access to NMR facility
Impact WO2017134466A1. Patent Application on intramolecular trans-sialidase; Carbohydr Res. 2017 Nov 8;451:110-117. doi: 10.1016/j.carres.2017.08.008.
Start Year 2007
Description Oral Presentation (Dublin) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Selected Oral presentation at the microbiology society Microbes and Mucosal Surfaces conference.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Poster Presentation (Canada) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Poster presentation to an international academic audience, at a conference on Microbiome, Host Resistance and Disease
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018