The Chaudhari Lab will investigate relationships between the gut microbiome and metabolic diseases, and how gut bacteria research can be used to identify and inform therapeutic treatments.
Chaudhari, a cell biologist by training, sees the Department of Biochemistry as the perfect venue for her research to grow. “Biochemistry is a fundamental part of cell biology,” says Chaudhari, “it is an interplay of small molecules, of proteins, and how they affect the health of a cell.”
What excites Chaudhari the most about joining the department and the UW–Madison community are the opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration — within the department, among in her lab, and across campus.
“I did my graduate work at state schools,” says Chaudhari. “I see the power of being in a state school like UW–Madison, where we have the freedom and resources to follow the science, wherever it may take us. Having access to experts from so many different fields, that’s its own form of scientific freedom.”
The value Chaudhari places on multidisciplinary research stems in large part from her own multifaceted education. Chaudhari grew up in Mumbai, India and completed her undergraduate studies in biotechnology close to home. She then moved to the United States, where she earned a M.S. from Pennsylvania State University and a Ph.D. from the University of Georgia. Along the way, her interests shifted from plant physiology to immunology to cell biology as she was exposed to more modes of research and inquiry.
In Chaudhari’s graduate program at the University of Georgia, students arrived with a general idea of their areas of interest but had the opportunity to explore new interests during lab rotations. It was during her lab rotations that Chaudhari first encountered research with C. elegans — a roundworm model organism upon which she would eventually build her doctoral research.
“I focused on host-microbiome interactions at a basic level using C. elegans,” recalls Chaudhari. “I studied how the bacteria E. coli, when consumed by C. elegans, affects metabolic pathways in germ stem cells. I found that E. coli strains produce unique small molecules that can influence stem cell signaling and aging in C. elegans. This was my first research publication as a Ph.D. student, and years later, still one of my favorite discoveries.”
Working with C. elegans opened the door for Chaudhari into research that could explore fundamental elements of host-bacteria relationships using in vitro cell culture and in vivo models. After graduate school, Chaudhari continued to investigate bacterial interactions as a postdoctoral trainee at Harvard Medical School, where she studied the role of the gut microbiome in metabolic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, and liver cirrhosis.
Now, her research integrates small molecule chemistry and cell biology to further explore host-microbiome interactions. The Chaudhari Lab will take a multidisciplinary approach toward exploring the microbiome, incorporating analytical chemistry, genetic engineering, cell culture assays, and in vivo model systems.
“I want to investigate how our gut microbiota biochemically impacts us,” explains Chaudhari. “What small molecules are bacteria producing, and how are these impacting the host? What signaling pathways are involved in eliciting host responses? How are these interactions contributing to health and disease?”
Along with her expertise, Chaudhari brings to her lab — and the students she will advise — a passion for discovery. She says, “I love the thrill of discovery, and this is a very exciting time to be in the microbiome field. Groundbreaking discoveries have been made in microbiome research in the past decade, and I believe there is room for making many more. I want to have an interdisciplinary lab where we integrate different types of skills and research platforms to explore the microbiome in new ways.”
Written by Renata Solan.