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Jennifer C. Stearns, PhD

Farncombe Family Chair in Microbial Ecology and Bioinformatics
Communication Officer for the Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute
Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine

Health Sciences Centre – 3N6
1280 Main Street West
Hamilton, ON Canada L8S 4K1
905-525-9140 x26966
Email: stearns@mcmaster.ca


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Our microbial partners, living on and within us, are essential to our health and provide us with countless benefits from food digestion to protection from pathogens. They interact intimately with our bodies, especially in the first years of life, educating the immune system, establishing metabolic set points and impacting developing gut physiology. Understanding healthy normal microbial colonization in early life is essential to the study of healthy infant development, as well as for the design of effective translational interventions aimed at the microbiota. Research in my lab aims to uncover the core processes, such as colonization, succession and stability, involved in microbial establishment within the human body. My approach involves human cohorts and animal models and uses molecular methods, microbial culture and bioinformatics, with the ultimate goal of understanding how the microbiota contributes to infant development and long term health.

Current Research Topics

Microbial community maturation within the context of a maturing host environment. My lab is developing and applying computational, molecular and culture based methods to study human associated microbial communities longitudinally.

Early infant nutrition choices on bacterial succession. By combining molecular profiling, with in vitro and in vivo experiments we are exploring how the infant diet helps to shape microbial communities.

Microbial contribution to early life origins of disease. By studying large populations of individuals we are connecting the gut microbiome and microbially derived metabolites in early life with evolving phenotypes of human disease, such as obesity, metabolic syndrome and atopy.

I am currently accepting applications for undergraduate, MSc and PhD positions.

  1. Stearns, JC, Zulyniak, MA, de Souza, RJ, Campbell, NC, Fontes, M, Shaikh, M et al.. Ethnic and diet-related differences in the healthy infant microbiome. Genome Med. 2017;9 (1):32. doi: 10.1186/s13073-017-0421-5. PubMed PMID:28356137 PubMed Central PMC5372248.
  2. Simioni, J, Hutton, EK, Gunn, E, Holloway, AC, Stearns, JC, McDonald, H et al.. A comparison of intestinal microbiota in a population of low-risk infants exposed and not exposed to intrapartum antibiotics: The Baby & Microbiota of the Intestine cohort study protocol. BMC Pediatr. 2016;16 (1):183. doi: 10.1186/s12887-016-0724-5. PubMed PMID:27832763 PubMed Central PMC5103394.
  3. Pirbaglou, M, Katz, J, de Souza, RJ, Stearns, JC, Motamed, M, Ritvo, P et al.. Probiotic supplementation can positively affect anxiety and depressive symptoms: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Nutr Res. 2016;36 (9):889-98. doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2016.06.009. PubMed PMID:27632908 .
  4. Stearns, JC, Davidson, CJ, McKeon, S, Whelan, FJ, Fontes, ME, Schryvers, AB et al.. Culture and molecular-based profiles show shifts in bacterial communities of the upper respiratory tract that occur with age. ISME J. 2015;9 (5):1268. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2015.49. PubMed PMID:25897775 PubMed Central PMC4409169.
  5. Stearns, JC, Davidson, CJ, McKeon, S, Whelan, FJ, Fontes, ME, Schryvers, AB et al.. Culture and molecular-based profiles show shifts in bacterial communities of the upper respiratory tract that occur with age. ISME J. 2015;9 (5):1246-59. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2014.250. PubMed PMID:25575312 PubMed Central PMC4409167.
  6. Whelan, FJ, Verschoor, CP, Stearns, JC, Rossi, L, Luinstra, K, Loeb, M et al.. The loss of topography in the microbial communities of the upper respiratory tract in the elderly. Ann Am Thorac Soc. 2014;11 (4):513-21. doi: 10.1513/AnnalsATS.201310-351OC. PubMed PMID:24601676 .
  7. Stearns, JC, Lynch, MD, Senadheera, DB, Tenenbaum, HC, Goldberg, MB, Cvitkovitch, DG et al.. Bacterial biogeography of the human digestive tract. Sci Rep. 2011;1 :170. doi: 10.1038/srep00170. PubMed PMID:22355685 PubMed Central PMC3240969.
  8. Stearns, JC, Woody, OZ, McConkey, BJ, Glick, BR. Effects of bacterial ACC deaminase on Brassica napus gene expression. Mol. Plant Microbe Interact. 2012;25 (5):668-76. doi: 10.1094/MPMI-08-11-0213. PubMed PMID:22352713 .
  9. Glick, BR, Stearns, JC. Making phytoremediation work better: maximizing a plant's growth potential in the midst of adversity. Int J Phytoremediation. 2011;13 Suppl 1 :4-16. doi: 10.1080/15226514.2011.568533. PubMed PMID:22046748 .
  10. Sauder, LA, Engel, K, Stearns, JC, Masella, AP, Pawliszyn, R, Neufeld, JD et al.. Aquarium nitrification revisited: Thaumarchaeota are the dominant ammonia oxidizers in freshwater aquarium biofilters. PLoS ONE. 2011;6 (8):e23281. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0023281. PubMed PMID:21858055 PubMed Central PMC3156731.
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