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Image: B. Steinhilber/MPI for Developmental Biology

Prof. Dr.

Ruth Ley

Year of election: 2020
Section: Microbiology and Immunology
City: Tübingen
Country: Germany

Research

Research Priorities: Ecology and evolution of the human gut microbiome

Ruth Ley is a developmental biologist and microbiologist. She is researching the ecology and evolution of the human gut microbiome and its links to health.

The gut microbiome is made up of trillions of microbial cells. Together they perform services for the host ranging from food digestion to protection against pathogens. Interpersonal differences in microbiome composition and function are emerging as important for differences in various health and disease states, raising questions about how the microbiome interacts with its host to impact health and other aspects of host biology. Ley and her lab are working on fundamental questions about the evolutionary origins of the human gut microbiome and how it influences host physiology and evolution.

Her group was the first to identify specific members of the human gut microbiome whose relative abundance in the gut microbiome is explained in part by the genotype of the host (so-called ‘heritable’ microbiota). They now use this list to guide their studies: what is special about the heritable microbes? What is it about human genetic variation that they respond to?

For instance, within the human gut microbiome, bacteria of the little-studied family Christensenellaceae are highly heritable. Ley and her team showed that these bacteria are also, along with a suite of other microbiota, enriched in lean versus obese individuals, and could demonstrate causality in germfree mice. Currently, they are delving into the multi-part symbiosis of these bacteria and archaea. The aim is to elucidate how they interact with each other and with the host to impact phenotype.

Career

  • since 2016 Director, Department of Microbiome Science, Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, Tübingen, Germany
  • 2014-2016 Associate Professor, Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Cornell University, New York, USA
  • 2008-2013 Assistant Professor, Department of Microbiology, Cornell University, New York, USA
  • 2007-2008 Research Assistant Professor, Washington University School of Medicine, Missouri, USA
  • 2005-2007 Instructor, Washington University School of Medicine, Missouri, USA
  • 2004-2005 Postdoc, Center for Genome Sciences, Washington School of Medicine, USA
  • 2001-2004 Postdoc, Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder, USA
  • 2001 PhD, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder, USA

Functions

  • 2020-2023 Member, Scientific Council of the Institut Pasteur, Paris, France
  • 2021 Chair, Keystone Conference “Microbiome, Environment, Disease”, Banff, Canada
  • 2020 Co-Chair, Cell Symposium “Infection Biology in the Age of the Microbiome”, Paris, France
  • 2019 Chair, Symposium “Living Systems II”, Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, Tübingen, Germany
  • 2018 Chair, Symposium “Living Systems”, Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, Tübingen, Germany
  • 2016 Co-Chair, Beneficial Microbes Meeting, American Society for Microbiology
  • 2013, 2015 General Meeting Planning Committee, American Society for Microbiology

Projects

  • 2019-2025 Co-Speaker, Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) Excellence Strategy, Cluster of Excellence “Controlling Microbes to Fight Infections”
  • 2019-2021 Principal Investigator, “Genetic transmission of components of the human gut microbiome”, National Institutes of Health (NIH)
  • 2011-2016 Lead Principal Investigator, “Genetic transmission of components of the human gut microbiome”, National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Honours and Memberships

  • since 2020 Member of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina
  • 2020 Otto Bayer Award
  • since 2019 Member of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO)
  • since 2019 Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology
  • 2018 Ernst Jung Prize for Medicine, Jung Foundation for Science and Research
  • since 2018 Member of the European Academy of Microbiology
  • 2014 Young Investigator’s Award, International Society for Microbial Ecology (ISME)
  • 2010 Fellowship in Science and Engineering, David and Lucile Packard Foundation
  • 2010 NIH Director’s New Innovator Award
  • 2009 Beckman Young Investigator

CONTACT

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