Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Life Sciences

Major Professor

Robert L. Hettich

Committee Members

Loren Hauser, Cynthia Peterson, Steven Wilhelm, Brynn Voy


The new field of ‘omics’ has spawned the development of metaproteomics, an approach that has the ability to identify and decipher the metabolic functions of a proteome derived from a microbial community that is largely uncultivable. With the development and availabilities of high throughput proteomics, high performance liquid chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry (MS) has been leading the field for metaproteomics. MS-based metaproteomics has been successful in its’ investigations of complex microbial communities from soils to the human body.

Like the environment, the human body is host to a multitude of microorganisms that reside within the skin, oral cavity, vagina, and gastrointestinal tract, referred to as the human microbiome. The human microbiome is made up of trillions of bacteria that outnumber human genes by several orders of magnitude. These microbes are essential for human survival with a significant dependence on the microbes to encode and carryout metabolic functions that humans have not evolved on their own. Recently, metaproteomics has emerged as the primary technology to understand the metabolic functional signature of the human microbiome.

Using a newly developed integrated approach that combines metagenomics and metaproteomics, we attempted to address the following questions: i) do humans share a core functional microbiome and ii) how do microbial communities change in response to disease. This resulted in a comprehensive identification and characterization of the metaproteome from two healthy human gut microbiomes. These analyses have resulted in an extended application to characterize how Crohn’s disease affects the functional signature of the microbiota.

Contrary to measuring highly complex and representative gut metaproteomes is a less complex, controlled human-derived microbial community present in the gut of gnotobiotic mice. This human gut model system enhanced the capability to directly monitor fundamental interactions between two dominant phyla, Bacteroides and Firmicutes, in gut microbiomes colonized with two or more phylotypes. These analyses revealed membership abundance and functional differences between phylotypes when present in either a binary or 12-member consortia. This dissertation aims to characterize host microbial interactions and develop MS-based methods that can provide a better understanding of the human gut microbiota composition and function using both approaches.

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