Associate Professor Mike William Taylor
Research | Current
Our research group investigates the ecology of microorganisms associated with animal “hosts”, with recent expansion into study of the human microbiome. Host-microbe interactions range from being pathogenic in nature, to microbes acting as a food source, to tightly linked symbioses in which both partners benefit. Understanding which microorganisms are associated with which hosts - and why - is central to our research. To this end, we employ a range of molecular and cultivation-based approaches, and utilise a number of different “hosts” in our research. Our main areas of research interest are summarised below…
Microbiology of autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
Autism is a major human health issue, affecting as many as 1 in 88 children. Gastrointestinal problems, perhaps indicative of a disrupted microbial community in the gut, are commonly associated with ASD. Furthermore, a number of recent studies have indicated differences in the gut microbiota of people with and without ASD, though few consistent patterns have yet emerged. In order to better understand the role of the gut microbiome in ASD, we have recently started to investigate the composition and activities of the faecal microbiota among people with ASD. This work is done in close collaboration with University of Auckland geneticists Jessie Jacobsen, Russell Snell and Klaus Lehnert, as well as Auckland neurologist Roz Hill and biochemist Dave Greenwood, and fits within the wider framework of the Minds for Minds research campaign (www.mindsforminds.org.nz).
Role of the microbiome in sinus disease
Chronic rhinosinusitis (CRS) is a miserable condition which causes its sufferers to feel as if they have a permanent head cold. It is a major health problem in Western societies, affecting approximately 5% of the population and adding a considerable financial burden to healthcare systems. While the causes of CRS remain poorly understood, it is becoming increasingly evident that bacteria growing within the sinuses have a role to play. In close collaboration with Richard Douglas and Kristi Biswas at the University of Auckland’s Department of Surgery, we are applying cultivation-dependent and –independent (molecular) techniques to determine the composition, abundance and in situ activities of the microbial community associated with CRS.
Fluorescence in situ hybridisation image of bacteria (red cells) within infected sinus tissue. Image courtesy of K. Biswas.
Microbial ecology of endangered New Zealand species
Animals provide a diverse array of habitats for microorganisms to colonise, and virtually all animals form symbiotic relationships with one or more microbial species. Due to its environmental heterogeneity and extended period of geographic isolation (>50 million years), New Zealand houses a unique variety of animal host organisms. Unfortunately, many of these animals are endangered, and we are actively investigating the microbiology of some of these species in order to (a) better understand the role of microbes in the biology of these endemic host animals, and (b) utilise this microbiological knowledge to aid in the conservation and management of key endangered species. Much of our research so far has concentrated on the critically endangered parrot, the kakapo (Strigops habroptilus), though we are also examining other bird and also reptile species, such as Duvaucel’s gecko (Hoplodactylus duvauceli). This work is done in cooperation with the Department of Conservation’s Kakapo Recovery Programme (kakaporecovery.org.nz/), the NZ Centre for Conservation Medicine (www.conservationmedicine.co.nz), and ecologists including Dianne Brunton and Manuela Barry at Massey University, and Dan Tompkins at Landcare Research.
The critically endangered kakapo. Image courtesy of D. Waite.
Marine sponge microbiome
Marine sponges harbour a dense and diverse community of microorganisms, which contribute substantially to the biology of the host sponge. We have been studying the microbiology of sponges for more than a decade, and although our work in this area is being wound back, it does remain an active part of our research programme. Our collaborators in this area include Nicole Webster (Australian Institute of Marine Science), Ute Hentschel (University of Wuerzburg), James Bell (Victoria University of Wellington), Jose Montoya (Marine Sciences Institute, Barcelona) and Peter Schupp (University of Oldenburg).
Current team members
- David Waite (PhD student) – Microbiology of the critically endangered NZ parrot, the kakapo
- Melissa D’souza (PhD student) – Soil bacteria of the Ross Sea Region, Antarctica
- Carmen Astudillo (PhD student) – Marine sponge microbiology
- Rose Williams (MSc student) – Gut microbiome of the threatened Duvaucel’s gecko
- Brett Wagner (MSc student) – Optimising procedures for extraction of nucleic acids from human stool samples
- Elahe Kia (MSc student) – Urinary metabolic profiles of children with autism spectrum disorder
- Dean Brown (MSc student) – Gut microbiota and autism spectrum disorder
- Mike Hoggard (Research Assistant / Biomed (Hons) student) – Role of the sinus microbiome in chronic rhinosinusitis
- Jeremy Raynes (SBS summer student) – Microbiology of chronic rhinosinusitis
Assoc. Prof. Jacqueline Beggs, University of Auckland
Assoc. Prof. James Bell, Victoria University of Wellington
Prof. Dianne Brunton, Dr Manuela Barry, Massey University
Dr Peter Deines, Massey University
Dr Richard Douglas, Kristi Biswas, Department of Surgery, University of Auckland
Daryl Eason, Deidre Vercoe, Ron Moorhouse, Department of Conservation
Dr Matthew Goddard, University of Auckland
Assoc. Prof. David Greenwood, Plant & Food Research
Prof. Ute Hentschel, University of Wuerzburg
Dr Jessie Jacobsen, Assoc. Prof. Klaus Lehnert, Prof. Russell Snell, University of Auckland
Dr Jose Montoya, Marine Sciences Institute (ICM-CSIC), Barcelona
Prof. Sally Poppitt, Human Nutrition Unit, University of Auckland
Prof. Peter Schupp, University of Wuerzburg
Dr Matthew Stott, GNS Science
Dr Dan Tompkins, Landcare Research
Dr Nicole Webster, Australian Institute of Marine Scienc
New Zealand Microbial Ecology Consortium (NZMEC)
The NZMEC is a special interest group of the NZ Microbiological Society (www.nzms.org.nz), convened by Mike Taylor and Matt Stott (GNS Science, Wairakei www.gns.cri.nz/who/staff/2150.html). The aim of the NZMEC is to facilitate interaction and collaboration among NZ-based microbial ecologists, and to disseminate relevant information such as job opportunities and recent publications – this is achieved by the Consortium’s website (www.nzmec.org.nz). We also hold biannual meetings which include seminars by some of the world’s leading microbial ecologists, and workshops on topics such as statistics for microbial ecology, and next-generation sequencing for microbial diversity studies. Please check out our website, or email Mike (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Matt (email@example.com) if you are interested in joining or just learning more about NZMEC.
Areas of expertise