A recent collaborator with scientists at Forsyth, Gary Borisy, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, joined the Department of Microbiology in 2013.
Although much of his previous scientific work has focused on mammalian cells, Borisy has recently developed a unique methodology to simultaneously image up to 28 bacterial species within a microbial biofilm, using the oral cavity as a model. This approach, termed ‘CLASI-FISH’, provides a systems-level analysis of microbial community organization through combinatorial labeling and spectral imaging. It allows scientists to visualize, for the first time, the ‘geography’ of biofilms—where specific bacteria are located and with what other species they are most commonly associated.
“I look at microbial communities as neighborhoods, and I want to know who’s next to who and why it’s significant,” said Borisy. Bacteria in nature live in complex, multi-species communities in which bacterial cells that are in close proximity can exchange metabolic products and signals. “The structural relationships of these communities mean something, and until now we have never been able to visualize them.”
Knowledge of microbial ‘neighbors’ may provide clues as to how bacteria interact with one another and how they interact with their human hosts in health and disease. In addition to his work in the mouth, Borisy is looking at gut microbes. In mouse models, Borisy is examining thin sections of small intestine, large intestine, and cecum, and the distribution of 15 bacterial taxa as a first step in understanding the functional roles of these bacteria in mammalian digestion, metabolism, and immune system function.