PhD, Adjunct professor, Human Microbiome Research Program, Faculty of Medicine, University of Helsinki, Finland
Dr. Anne Salonen is a principal investigator and adjunct professor at University of Helsinki, Finland. She is also a deputy director of the Human Microbiome Research Program at the Medical Faculty, University of Helsinki. Dr. Salonen has multidisciplinary training in biosciences and PhD in microbiology (on zoonotic RNA-viruses, 2004). Since 2007 she has been studying human microbiomes and her current research is focused on the composition and activity of the intestinal microbiota in health and disease, especially in early life. She is specifically interested on the interactions between diet, intestinal microbiota and health, and she is a pioneer on identifying gut microbes as drivers of individual dietary responses. More recently Dr. Salonen also started to study the vaginal micro- and mycobiota in relation to clinical outcomes in gynecology and obstetrics.
Aside from the human genome, our capacity to digest and metabolise foods is also determined by the intestinal microbiota. They encode our “other genome” with millions of genes, vastly surpassing the coding capacity of the human genome. The microbial diet-derived metabolites provide energy but also act as signalling molecules that generate systemic immune and metabolic responses and hence can profoundly affect human physiology and health. If is noteworthy that the type and biological activity of the bacterial metabolites released in our gut heavily depend on diet. Hence, intestinal bacteria appear pivotal in mediating the health effects of foods. Due to their profound digestive role as well as plasticity of the gut microbiome as opposed to the human genome, intestinal microbes have recently gained considerable attention on nutritional research. However, one of the major challenges in the field is the high normal variation of the gut microbiota composition and its individual-specific dietary responses. Similarly, the high variation of host responses is a challenge in nutritional research and practise. We and others have started to study the microbiological basis of the individual dietary responses to better understand why and how the same diet results into differential health benefits or risks in different individuals. In our proof-of-principle study we found that categorization of the study subjects to dietary responders and non-responders allows identification of microbiota features that are specific to responders, both in terms of the microbiota and most importantly, of the anticipated host parameters such as metabolic health markers. If such diagnostic microbiota signatures can be validated in further studies, they will provide a radically new way to understand diet-health relationships and approach personalized nutrition