Research in the Ward laboratory is conducted on bacteria, and focuses on evolutionary cell biology and microbial ecology/microbiome studies. We have a particular interest in the unusual endomembranes of planctomycete bacteria (especially Gemmata obscuriglobus), how these features evolved within the planctomycete lineage, and their functional consequences for the biology of the cell.  Our recent work has been on the spatial organization of gene expression, as well as structural and functional aspects of the endomembranes.

Most of our ecology/microbiome work is conducted within the human gastrointestinal tract, where we are examining the contribution of the gut microbiome to pediatric health and disease. Our primary focus is on Hirschsprung’s disease, a developmental defect of the enteric nervous system that often leads to enterocolitis, a serious inflammatory condition. Our work suggests that the primary developmental defect alters early microbial colonization of the gut, which may predispose these patients to enterocolitis. A future goal is to apply an improved understanding of these processes to the development of more effective clinical interventions.

In our newest project, we are working at the intersection between microbiology and archaeology, analyzing microbial community structure down through soil profiles at Paleoindian sites in Wyoming. We are interested in determining how past and present environmental factors (temperature, precipitation) drive population structure, thus whether these communities retain a signal of past climate. Answering these questions may allow us to use microbial data to inform future archaeological studies.


Recent lab papers

Rivas-Marin, E., Stettner, E.Y. Gottshall, C. Santana-Molina, M. Helling, F. Basile, N.L. Ward, and D.P. Devos. 2019. Essentiality of sterol synthesis genes in the planctomycete bacterium Gemmata obscuriglobusNature Communications 10:1-6.

Parker, K.D., S.E. Albeke, J.P. Gigley, A.M. Goldstein, and N.L. Ward. 2018. Microbiome composition in both wild-type and disease model mice is heavily influenced by mouse facility. Frontiers in Microbiology 9:1598. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2018.0159

Kushak, R.I., Winter, H.S., Buie, T.M., Cox, S.B., Phillips, C.D., and N.L. Ward. 2017. Analysis of the duodenal microbiome in autistic individuals: association with carbohydrate digestionJournal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition 64(5):e110-e116. doi: 10.1097/MPG.0000000000001458.

Wang, F., et al.,  2016. Detecting microbial dysbiosis associated with pediatric Crohn’s disease despite the high variability of the gut microbiota. Cell Reports 14(4):945-55.

Economopoulos, K.P., et al., 2016. Prevention of antibiotic-associated metabolic syndrome in mice by intestinal alkaline phosphatase. Diabetes Obesity and Metabolism 18(5):519-27.

Ward, N.L., et al.,  2016. Antibiotic treatment induces long-lasting changes in the fecal microbiota that protect against colitis. Inflammatory Bowel Diseases 22(10):2328-40.