ARC Future Fellow will explore the gut for healthy ageing

Queensland Brain Institute neuroscientist Associate Professor Steven Zuryn has been awarded an Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellowship to explore the interactions between the gut microbiome and mitochondria.

Dr Zuryn’s study was one of 11 projects from The University of Queensland (UQ) to receive funding through the Future Fellowship, a $94 million scheme that supports innovative research of national importance.

This funding will enable Dr Zuryn and his team to explore the role of the gut microbiome on mitochondrial function.

“Our goal is to determine how the diverse bacterial species that inhabit the digestive tract of all animals affects the host's mitochondria,” Dr Zuryn said. 

“We now know that rather than passive occupants of our gut, these microorganisms play an integral role in modulating homeostasis and maintaining overall health.”

The gut microbiome is a complex ecosystem of trillions of bacteria and their genes. These bacteria live in  harmony with our bodies, working to regulate the development and function of our immune, nervous, and metabolic systems. 

In recent years, extensive research has revealed strong links between changes in microbiota composition and various host diseases and disorders, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and autism spectrum disorder.

The gut-brain axis has recently been described based on evidence that microbes produce bioactive compounds that facilitate communication between the gut and the central nervous system.

Mitochondria evolved from a bacterium engulfed by our cells some two billion years ago — an event that was pivotal to the creation of plants and animals.

Given their shared common ancestor, mitochondria and the bacteria that reside in the gut can interact through secreted chemical signals and together play crucial roles in regulating host metabolism and longevity. But bacteria can also target the mitochondria in host cells.

“Both have analogous genes, similar bioactive compounds, and comparable metabolic pathways,” Dr Zuryn said.

“We want to know how mitochondria respond to these indirect and direct signals, and how that affects their function.

“Armed with this understanding, we may be able to optimise mitochondrial function and prolong cellular health through probiotics or small molecules derived from bacteria.”

Given their significance in the determination of metabolic health and longevity, both mitochondria and gut bacteria have become important targets in biological research.

The potential for precise interventions that target microbial-mitochondrial communication could provide a way forward for improved cell function in a wide range of circumstances, including during ageing.

Last updated:
13 September 2023