One Health - Interfaculty Research Cooperation

Direct and cascading effects of maize plant secondary metabolites on microbiome-dependent health

Visualization of the intestinal mucosa. Fluorescence microscopy of an intestinal biopsy.
Hundreds of bacteria species form a highly complex ecosystem on our intestinal mucosa, which shapes our health and interactions with the environment. Visualization of the intestinal mucosa (F-actin: red; cell nucleus: gray; upper half) and the intestinal bacteria (gray, lower half). Fluorescence microscopy of an intestinal biopsy. Image: Andreas Müller & Siegfried Hapfelmeier

By consuming plants, humans are chronically exposed to bioactive plant secondary metabolites. Plant secondary metabolites are often assumed to affect human health directly and indirectly by changing the composition and functioning of the gut microbiota. However, as plant secondary metabolites are important for plant health, for instance by reprogramming the soil microbiome, they may also determine the dietary quality of the plant and thereby have cascading effects on human health.

Within this cluster, we will investigate how maize plant secondary metabolites affect the microbiome and health of mice as a model for humans. Both humans and mice are exposed to substantial levels of plant secondary metabolites through the consumption of wheat, rye and maize based diets. We will use a set of maize plant secondary metabolites mutants and synthetic plant secondary metabolites to investigate the direct and microbiome-dependent influence of plant secondary metabolites on the mouse immune system. Furthermore, we will investigate how plant secondary metabolites soil conditioning affects the quality of maize through soil-feedbacks, and how these changes influence mouse microbiota and their functions in immunity. This work will provide a basis for a better mechanistic understanding of the effects of plant secondary metabolites on human health.