Title: Assiociate Professor
College: Public Health and Health Professions; Medicine
Department: Department of Epidemiology
Research Interests: Ecology of gut microbiota
Curriculum vitae: PDF
Dr. Mai and his lab investigate the complexity and dynamics of naturally occurring microbial communities inhabiting the digestive tracks of humans. Individuals typically have their own unique composition of intestinal microbiota, but Mai’s studies seek to determine predictable patterns of species complexity and dynamics that can evaluate an individual’s susceptibility to disease. He and his lab analyze gut microbiota for associations between its composition, the host’s diet, and the host’s state of health or disease. Dr. Mai’s lab also examines whether or not an individual’s intestinal microbiota composition affects their susceptibility to intestinal pathogens (particularly those causing diarrheal diseases), and if manipulation of this microbiota can help to prevent disease frequency or severity.
At the Emerging Pathogens Institute, Dr. Mai collaborates with other scientists by using molecular typing and sequencing approaches to discover novel bacterial pathogens. Two particular interests of his group include diarrheal diseases, especially in young children of developing countries, and infectious causes of chronic diseases including cancer. His lab uses 16S rRNA gene based techniques to search for diversity in the intestinal microbes, many of which are unknown or uncultivated. In other projects his group currently investigates the effectiveness of bacteriophages, viruses that infect bacteria, for controlling potential pathogens and associations between microbiota and diabetes. Dr. Mai’s ongoing studies include diarrheal field-studies in developing countries, where his special interest is in a potential link between stunted growth in children and the diversity of their intestinal microbiota. An emerging interest of his group is the role of early gut microbiota development in preterm infants in preventing severe diseases such as necrotizing entercolitis. He and his lab are also examining how poorly digestible starches and vitamin-D, which has anti-microbial properties, affect intestinal microbiota composition.
By establishing known patterns of association between an individual’s intestinal microbiota and various diseases, Dr. Mai intends for his lab to eventually design specific probiotic interventions, aimed at improving microbiota composition, to increase an individual’s resistance to acute or chronic infections that can result in the development of more chronic disease. Dr. Mai’s training in epidemiology facilitates the expansion of his microbiota research from the laboratory to animal experiments and large population based studies. His work is unique in that it crosses several scales of study: he collects samples from human populations, performs analyses and experiments at the molecular level (often using experimental animal models), to then apply the findings back to large human population studies.>
The American Cancer Association is supporting Dr. Mai’s ongoing clinical study that investigates how differences in diet between African Americans and Caucasians can result in different microbiota compositions, and how these differences might contribute to the increased risk of colorectal cancer in African Americans.
Currently, his position is split between the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and the Emerging Pathogens Institute, and Dr. Mai looks forward to moving his lab into the new EPI facility when it is completed in 2009.
Emerging Pathogens Institute
University of Florida
P.O. Box 100009
Gainesville, Florida 32610-00090
Voice: (352) 273-9398
Fax: (352) 273-9399