Do fungi hold the key to healthy fatty-acid metabolism? Insights from MALDI-ToF-MS analysis of human gut fungi and their metabolites.

Project Code: 10385912

Faculty: Liggins Institute

Department: Liggins Institute

Main Supervisor: Dr Elizabeth McKenzie (emck002)

Application open date: 31 Aug 2017

Application deadline: 01 Mar 2019

Enrolment information: NZ Citizens, NZ Permanent Residents, International


The human gut teems with a vast ecosystem of bacteria, fungi, viruses, archaea and invertebrates – the gut microbiome. Current research is focused on bacteria, yet symbiotic fungi – the  mycobiome – represents a significant biomass that potentially plays a critical role in nutrition and immunity. The few studies that exist on gut fungi reveal striking differences between healthy and obese individuals. Faecal metabolite profiling of individuals predisposed to diabetes and obesity also showed altered methylketones, fatty acids and elevated levels of butyrolactone - a microbial signalling compound. Methylketones are metabolites produced by fungally mediated fatty acid metabolism in cultured foods like cheese. However, this process has not yet been demonstrated in humans.

Using radioisotope labelling and Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption Ionisation Time of Flight Imaging Mass Spectrometry, this multidisciplinary study will identify gut fungi and their metabolites, and will shed light on how  they are distributed in faeces and what fungal structures produce  metabolites. This could reveal a major microbially mediated pathway for metabolism of fatty acids in humans. Understanding the role of the mycobiome in the gut can help uncover the processes  leading to metabolic dysregulation, which will aid the development of treatment interventions and preventive measures.

What we are looking for in a successful applicant

Some experience with analytical/biochemistry/organic chemistry desirable.

Enjoys writing


Curious, creative thinker

Conscientious, attention to detail


1. Develop a method for real-time visualisation of faecal fungi and their metabolites using 
2. Identify faecal fungi and their metabolites using mass spectrometry and obtain images of fungi and their metabolites in both faeces and faecal cultures.

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