Author:
Karl Erik Piirimees

Professor Elin Org speaks on the impact of the microbiome on human health at inaugural lecture

On Wednesday, 3 April at 16:15, Elin Org, Professor of Microbiomics at the University of Tartu, will give her inaugural lecture "The past, present and future of human microbiome research". The lecture will discuss the links between the human microbiome and health, and the potential of this field of research for future medicine.

According to professor Elin Org, it is important to understand that our health is significantly shaped by the microorganisms that live with us, in addition to our genes, lifestyle choices and living environment. Each person has characteristic microbial communities, or a microbiome, in different parts of the body, the development and maintenance of which is influenced by a variety of factors throughout life. Since the introduction of the analysis of the genetic material (DNA) of microbial communities as a research method, knowledge of the microbiome has grown enormously. “However, there is still a long way to go to understand the functioning of this complex ecosystem and its impact on our health,” said Org.

Microbiome imbalances have been linked to many of today's common diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, immune and nervous system diseases, allergies and cancer. In addition, the effects of many medicines have been shown to depend on the microbial composition of our gut, and taking different medicines in turn affects the microbial balance. "In a large study with the Estonian Genome Centre, we found that the composition of our gut microbiome is influenced by many drugs in addition to antibiotics. Their long-term ingestion can significantly alter the composition of intestinal bacteria and thus the barrier function of the intestinal mucosa," said the professor.

Knowledge of what causes changes in the diversity and balance of the human microbiome and how these changes affect our health will enable ways to apply microbiome information to future medicine. "This is a very exciting field, which will certainly have a variety of practical implications in the future – the knowledge gained will help to better assess health risks and the effects of drugs, more accurately diagnose diseases and prescribe more appropriate treatments," said Org.

In her lecture, Elin Org will present the development of research on the human microbiome, analyse the current state of knowledge in this field and explain the research needed. She will also discuss the opportunities and challenges of applying microbiome data in personalised medicine.

Elin Org graduated from the School of Biology and Geography of the University of Tartu in 1997, majoring in biotechnology. During her master's and doctoral studies, she investigated variations in the human genome and their association with complex diseases. From 2003 to 2005, she did her doctoral research at the Institute of Human Genetics at the Helmholtz Centre for Health and Environmental Research in Munich. She defended her PhD thesis “The comparative patterns of linkage disequilibrium (LD) in European populations and its implication for genetic association studies” in 2006. After that, Elin Org worked for five years as Research Fellow extraordinarius and Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology of the University of Tartu and did her postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California in Los Angeles in 2011–2015. In 2013, she received the Marie Curie International Outgoing Fellowship. After her postdoctoral studies, she returned to the University of Tartu, where, with the support of a grant from the European Molecular Biology Organization and a start-up grant from the Estonian Research Council, she established a new research area at the Institute of Genomics, focusing on the links between the human microbiome and health.

Since 2023, Elin Org has been working as Professor of Microbiomics. She is leading the microbiomics research group and is a member of the Estonian Society of Human Genetics, American Society of Human Genetics, and Estonian Society of Personalized Medicine.

The aim of the inaugural lecture is to give the new professor an opportunity to introduce herself, her specialisation and field of research. At the end of the public lecture, the audience will be able to ask the professor questions. Everyone interested is welcome. A live webcast of the inaugural lecture will be available on UTTV.

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