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Undergraduate Research Project Management System

Dynamics of the Gut Microbial Community of Juvenile Arctic Ground Squirrels

Status Current
Seeking Researchers No
Start Date 11/01/2010
End Date 06/30/2011
Funding Source Alaska Heart Institute
Funding Amount 4,920
Community Partner
Related Course
Last Updated 03/01/2011 10:50PM
Keywords ground squirrel, microbiota


  Khrystyne Duddleston

Student Researchers
  Brian Quinlan


Mammals and their gut microbiota share a mutualistic relationship in which host organisms gain nutrients and energy from the gut microflora, and microbes benefit from access to carbohydrate and an anaerobic environment. However, the gut microbiota has also been implicated in disease. For example, gut microbial community structure and function have been linked to obesity in humans and mouse models. Hibernating mammals, such as the arctic ground squirrel (Urocitellus parryii), express large changes in physiology across their annual cycle, which is divided into a short active season (during which reproduction, growth and pre-hibernation fattening occur) and a long hibernation season (during which body temperature is significantly decreased and gut mass and complexity declines). These changes provide a platform upon which to study the complex interaction between the host and its gut microbial community as it relates to disease. For example, during the pre-hibernation phase of the active season, arctic ground squirrels become morbidly obese, increasing body fat from 5% to >45%; a physiological state ripe for examination of gut microbial community dynamics and obesity. Hibernators have been used as models for studies of human diseases, yet to date, few studies have documented the effects of the hibernation phenotype on gut microbial communities, and none have done so in arctic ground squirrels. I propose to document changes in gut microbial diversity across the first active season of juvenile arctic ground squirrels using terminal restriction fragment length polymorph isms and to identify and phylogenetically characterize the gut microbial community using cloning and sequencing techniques. My study will be the first to characterize development and changes within the gut microbial community of arctic ground squirrels and will provide baseline data necessary to develop hypotheses for studying the relationship between the gut microbiota and disease.

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