Gut Microbiology for Warfighting Resilience Program

This Office of Naval Research program will explore host-intestinal microbial interactions in response to specific stressors, with a long-term goal of enhancing warfighter resilience. Stressors such as those experienced during training or deployment can potentially lead to serious physical or psychological impacts. Identification of new strategies to increase warfighter resilience to stress can lead to reductions in infection and traumatic injuries, enhanced performance, and extended mission (i.e., diving) duration or profiles.

Initial investment in this new program area will be directed at understanding the effects of certain behavioral and physical stressors on the host/gut microbiota, with an emphasis on deducing the role the gut microbiota (GM) may play in mediating physiological, psychological and possibly cognitive effects of such exposures, via the gut-brain axis. As stated, there is tantalizing evidence that the GM plays a pivotal role as the interface between the neurological, immunological, and metabolic well-being of the host. Of interest are research efforts that will:

  1. Characterize the psychological, physiological and cognitive responses of the host and GM (behavior, organism, tissue and molecular levels) following exposure to various behavioral and physical stressors, such as: abnormal circadian cycles or living conditions (such as those found on a submarine), extreme/rapid environmental shifts (e.g., altitudinal, temperature, elevated ambient noise), fatigue, anticipatory anxiety or fear
  2. Ascertain whether specific gut microbial community members, metabolites or functions play a role in the observed host response to the stressor(s) listed above, or
  3. Support the development of novel tools for real-time analysis of microbes, the surfaces they adhere to, and microbial products in the GI tract to more closely map microbial heterogeneity and identify specific links to their function.

It is expected that gaining such knowledge will inform novel, future strategies to increase resilience of our warfighters to these insults via manipulation of the gut microbial community. See list of recent awards.

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