Aryana Zardkoohi – Nathalie Juge laboratory, Quadram Institute
My PhD project is at the interface between plant sciences, gut microbiome and human health. Before selecting the main project, I experienced three rotations, where in each I was able to acquire different sets of skills.
In the first rotation I learnt programming and applied statistics by analysing data from the Osteoarthritis Initiative; my second rotation was based the University of East Anglia, where I was able to study the effects of plant-derived compounds on a polyacrylamide hydrogel model to study the effects of these compounds and matrix stiffness on vascular smooth muscle cells. Finally, my third rotation based at the Quadram Institute Bioscience, in the group where I am now conducting my PhD project, I studied the in vitro gut-barrier function effects of resistant starch diet from peas, a collaborative project with Imperial College London.
Altogether, the rotation year gave me experimental skills and technical knowledge that have helped me towards the main PhD project, as well as invaluable interdisciplinary collaboration across the fields of medicine, nutrition, plant science and cell biology.
Currently, I am working with Pisum sativum, also known as garden peas, focusing on the role of raffinose family oligosaccharides (RFOs) produced by these plants on human nutrition and health. RFOs have been associated with the protection from desiccation in plants but when consumed by humans in legumes, they can also lead to abdominal discomfort and flatulence, and have even been considered as anti-nutrients. Nonetheless, there is evidence that members of the human gut microbiota such as Ruminococcus gnavus can utilise RFOs through several α-galactosidases.
In my project I will be generating pea mutants with reduced RFO content from mutagenesis approaches at the John Innes Centre and studying the effect of these mutants on gut health at the Quadram Institute Bioscience. Experimentally, I will use in vitro models of digestion and fermentation, and gut barrier function with intestinal organoids derived from human donors from the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital endoscopy unit.
Collectively, these interdisciplinary approaches aim to explore the partial or complete reduction of RFOs from legumes to increase human consumption, focusing on the impacts these compounds have on human gut health.