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Interdisciplinary Initiatives Program Seed Grant: Dynamics of hydrogen sulfide production by gut bacteria

Seed Grants
Awarded in 2020

Interdisciplinary Initiatives Program Round 10 - 2020

Jonas Cremer, Biology
Alfred Spormann, Civil & Environmental Engineering and Chemical Engineering

The incidence rates of different bowel diseases, including inflammatory bowel diseases and colorectal cancer, have increased strongly over the last several decades. The composition of the dense bacterial community in the gut is thought to impact the onset and progression of these diseases, but the underlying mechanisms responsible for this impact are currently unknown. In this study, Jonas Cremer and Alfred Spormann will combine their complimentary expertise in bacterial ecology, physiology, and metabolism to investigate the role of bacterial hydrogen sulfide production.

Hydrogen sulfide is toxic at high concentrations as it inhibits the energy supply of epithelial cells, affects mucus integrity, and promotes DNA mutations. However, we currently do not know much about the rate of bacterial H2S production in the gut. Accordingly, the extent to which bacterial H2S in the gut can cause these toxic effects remains unclear. In this study, we will develop a quantitative model of bacterial H2S production. We will screen major gut-bacteria for their capability to produce H2S. We will extensively quantify bacterial growth and H2S production in-vitro, also probing how these quantities change across different gut-relevant growth-conditions. By combining these observations and important gut-physiological determinants – including the different sources of sulfur which reach the intestine – we will derive a quantitative understanding of bacterial H2S production within the gut. As such, this study will prepare grounds for the design of new clinical and epidemiological investigation to further establish the pathological roles of bacterial H2S production. The detailed knowledge of bacterial metabolism and physiology we will acquire in this study can further help with the development of new dietary guidelines and pre/pro-biotic based intervention strategies to lower bacterial H2S production rates.