I am a junior at Yale University majoring in Biomedical Engineering, with a track focus in Biomolecular Engineering, while also pursuing a certificate in Data Science. This summer I had the opportunity to work as a Research Innovation Assistant Intern completing various projects, including product research and development, fundraising, and partnership expansion. Through my work, I was able to learn about the biotechnology industry while furthering my interests in scientific research as well as translating scientific developments into marketable products. As a lifetime sports enthusiast and recreational athlete, FitBiomics’ goal of studying elite athletes to improve human wellness aligned with my desire to utilize scientific principles to benefit others, while also allowing my interest in sports to continue to foster my desire to learn about science.
OUR GUT AND BODY’S 2-WAY COMMUNICATION SYSTEM
The focus of my work was to further FitBiomics’ goal of elucidating the connections between the gut microbiome, athletic performance, and health. The composition of individuals’ gut bacteria has become an area of increasing interest due to its applications to human health. It has been implicated in issues ranging from food allergies to strength, blood pressure, cancer, or neurological diseases including depression or Alzheimer’s disease. To first understand the role of the microbiome, I completed an extensive literature review, examining hundreds of scientific papers, and researching over twenty different health indications, including those listed above. I found that a common theme throughout the microbiome field is that discoveries regarding the microbiome only lead to more unknowns about the gut. This continues to drive research, thereby supporting FitBiomics’ work at the cutting edge of microbiome research.
I learned that there is a bidirectional relationship between the microbiome and performance, but both the microbiome and sports performance are complex heterogeneous fields that require frameworks to understand. Dividing “sports” into the different types of sports played, such as football or baseball, is not sufficient to gain insights into their connection with the microbiome. We need to understand the traits or “phenotypes” that are important to athletic performance and elevated among elite athletes, which I worked on throughout the summer.
Focusing on the phenotypes shared among elite athletes emphasizes the biological aspects of sports that can be more easily connected to the microbiome. Additionally, it enables us to analyze the connections between different athletes across all sports. For example, I discovered that from a physiological perspective, a bobsled athlete is very similar to a triple jumper based on the strength and speed required to be successful. This strategy is preferred over analyzing all athletes within a sport the same as all football players at different positions possess different elite phenotypes. In sports, these phenotypes include traits such as strength or speed, but also overlooked factors in performance such as flexibility, analytic aptitude, nerve (fear factor) as well as other neurological considerations.
DEFINING HEALTH FOR OPTIMIZED R&D
The understanding of elite phenotypes is central to FitBiomics’ approach. Instead of looking at all “non-diseased” as a healthy population, we look at specific health-associated phenotypes from elite athletes to understand the role of the microbiome in promoting health. It is through these phenotypes that the biological connections between a basketball player, a gymnast, and an alpine skier can be understood, but I also found that these phenotypes are connected to the demands of non-athletic occupations such as airplane pilots or musicians. Although FitBiomics’ probiotics are derived from elite athletes, they are meant for the average, healthy consumer where the physical and mental skills of sports are similarly required in their life. Therefore, next-generation probiotics are useful to elite athletes, health seekers, and, most importantly, the large healthy sedentary population in this country.
The ideal result of this project is that these specific performance traits can be attributed at least in part to certain bacterial taxa or mechanisms in the microbiome of elite athletes, which can then be isolated and developed as probiotics. The diverse bacteria in the gut have unique functions that contribute to the microbiome’s role in numerous health conditions. Through my work, I learned that some common microbiome mechanisms include the production of bioactive metabolites including short chain fatty acids, improving intestinal permeability, reducing inflammation through Treg induction, and branched-chain amino acid metabolism. It is through these mechanisms that the bacterial taxa in the human microbiota exert systemic changes throughout the body. These localized gut changes are connected to cascading pathways that introduce downstream effects resulting in systemic biological or biomechanical changes that improve human health or athletic performance. Analyzing the microbiome of elite athletes with unique phenotypes allows FitBiomics to isolate the specific bacterial taxa that induce positive systemic change in human health and wellness.
The detailed analysis of the microbiome and performance better contextualizes the work at FitBiomics and emphasizes the potential positive impacts of the revolutionary microbiome sequencing. Additionally, focusing my efforts this summer on the connections between elite athletes, the microbiome, and program design has improved my understanding of the scientific foundation as well as the future reach of next-generation probiotics. Explaining the science of gut health and the mission of FitBiomics to potential program ambassadors and athletes seeking to join the FitBiomics team has allowed me to translate complex scientific work so that it can be both understood and appreciated by all, thereby enabling the growth of FitBiomics. I am excited about this continued growth of FitBiomics as we continue to be at the forefront of microbiome research.
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