Carmody Lab at Harvard University

by Yi Jia Liow

Over the past 10 months, my time as a visiting fellow has been a transformative experience, and I am delighted to share the progress I have made in my research endeavors.

Working closely with the esteemed Carmody Lab in the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, I have been conducting a three-series eating behavioral study. The primary focus of my research has been to investigate the impact of the Western diet, at various resolutions, on food preference in a mouse model that is associated with the gut microbiota. As my fellowship draws to a close, I am thrilled to report that this project is gaining significant momentum. In fact, thanks to the additional support of the JSPS DC2 scholarship, I have been given the opportunity to continue my research journey at Harvard University, further collaborating with Prof. Carmody.

Throughout my time here, I have had the privilege of acquiring a diverse set of laboratory skills that directly pertain to my research topic. However, the true value of my experience lies in the exposure to the unique ways of thinking demonstrated by the professors and exceptional graduate students at Harvard. Observing their approach to research has allowed me to refine my own skills and adopt effective project management techniques. I now possess the confidence to handle my own projects from inception to completion, overseeing every aspect of an experiment. Specifically, I have honed my dissection skills, mastering the delicate process of harvesting the intestinal tract for essential nutrient absorption analysis. Additionally, I am currently in the process of learning advanced techniques for micro-dissecting brain regions of interest, which will enable me to illumi- nate the underlying mechanisms of hedonic eating behavior. Furthermore, with the support of the NeuroTechnology Core facility at Harvard University, I have designed an original two-choice food preference chamber tailored to my eating behavior study, utilizing 3D printing technology to create specific parts of the feeding apparatus.

In addition to my work with the Carmody Lab, I have had the opportunity to collaborate with Prof. Christina Warinner in the Department of Anthropology. Together, along with a postdoctoral researcher from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, we have embarked on a project that explores the effects of westernization on gut microbiota composition and its relationship with lactase gene persistence in the Mongolian population. This interdisciplinary project allows me to approach gut microbiome research from multiple perspectives, including cultural and genomic angles, in addition to the mechanistic viewpoint derived from my regular animal experiments. Notably, we have recently submitted an abstract to the ACLAB (Asian Conference on Lactic Acid Bacteria), which discusses the impact of a dairy-based diet on the gut microbiota in the Mongolian population. Overall, my fellowship at Harvard University has been an incredibly enriching experience. The knowledge and skills I have gained, coupled with the support of the FUTI Scholarship Foundation, have laid a strong foundation for my research career. I am sincerely grateful for the opportunities provided to me, and I look forward to continuing my journey of exploration and discovery in the field of gut microbiota research.