Laura Sycuro

Assistant Professor

Microbiology, Immunology and Infectious Diseases

Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology

Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)


Contact information


Research and teaching

Research Activities

The broad goal of my research program is to harness the microbiome to promote maternal and child health. My lab is working to advance the precision with which we define the composition of the microbiome and mechanistically link its species, strains, and genes to health outcomes. This work is unfolding in two directions:
1) Technology development that deepens our understanding of the microbiome's pan-genomic content and fluidity
2) Identification of important genes that are funneled into interdisciplinary functional studies

The Microbiome and Preterm Birth

Chorioamniotic infection is the suspected cause in 20?40% of women experiencing preterm labor; in cases of very preterm birth (<32 weeks) or 2nd trimester miscarriage, infection rates are even higher. The culprits in these infections are usually members of the vaginal or oral microbiotas, but mechanistic data and clinically detectable markers for the presence of damaging species or functions are lacking. To address these deficits, my lab is working to better define the microbial communities contributing to pregnancy loss and preterm delivery. The long-term goal of this research is to identify new diagnostic markers and treatment strategies that safely correct microbial imbalances before they trigger early labor.

Metagenomics
A major focus of my group is developing methods of detecting and assembling the genomes of uncultivated species and strains. By resolving strain-level genomes from metagenomes, we are rapidly populating reference sequence databases and generating curated sequence maps that will improve understanding of microbiome structure and function. In addition to identifying sequences that could potentially serve as diagnostic markers, this work is yielding a first-of-its-kind look at how phage, plasmids, antibiotic resistance genes, and virulence factors move through a complex human ecosystem.

Cultivation Models

My lab's genomic discoveries are fluidly linked to hypothesis-driven research aimed at discerning the function of microbes linked to dysbiosis and pregnancy complications. Using robotics technology to generate mutant strains and perform highly parallel screens, we are expediting the discovery of genes contributing to clinically-relevant phenotypes. The lab is also establishing a microfluidics model that allows for the anaerobic growth of bacterial communities under physiologically relevant conditions of low shear flow. Our initial focus is on identifying genes that contribute to the formation of adherent biofilms in the vagina, which could play a role in ascending infections that cause preterm birth.

Collaborative Projects

I am one of the principal investigators of a new Albertan initiative that aims to understand how the maternal microbiome, both in pregnancy and in the early stages of microbial transmission to a newborn, impacts the lifelong health of children. My lab is also part of a collaborative team investigating how new vaccines that modulate the upper respiratory tract (URT) microbiota by preventing common, yet potentially pathogenic bacteria from colonizing, affect the ecology and stability of the community.


Publications

PubMed