The Durban University of Technology’s (DUT’s) Faculty of Applied Sciences hosted a Microbiome Workshop on Statistical Analyses of Microbiomes at the Steve Biko Campus, Faculty Computer Laboratory from 15 January to 16 January 2020.

The two-day workshop was presented by Professor Andres Gomez, who is from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Department of Animal Science/Department of Food Science and Nutrition. He has a Ph.D., Animal Sciences, University of Illinois, 2014; MSc., Biotechnology, National University of Colombia, 2011 and BSc., Animal Sciences, National University of Colombia, 2003.

Prof Gomez’s lab studies the factors that shape the composition and function of the microbiome associated to animals and humans.

To that end, we apply a system-level view of microbes and host, using meta-OMIC techniques (metagenomics, metabolomics, transcriptomics), along with bioinformatics, machine learning and statistical tools. This approach is used to understand how the microbiome interacts with the host, influencing host nutrition, health and evolution, he said.

At the workshop held at DUT he focused on bioinformatics, statistical and ecological analyses of microbiome compositional-type data (16S rRNA high throughput sequencing).

It also allowed the mainly post-graduate students from DUT the opportunity to process and filter short 16S rRNA amplicon sequences to generate count/frequency tables of taxonomic composition, and perform analyses of alpha and beta diversity, and marker taxa.

Faculty of Applied Sciences Executive Dean, Professor Suren Singh said: Dr Gomez initially started collaborating with the university about four years ago when he was working in San Diego, following then he moved to the University of Minnesota. We currently have one Masters student that went to his lab in 2019. He has also run a workshop previous to this for this year, 2020. This is his third visit to the university, essentially he is running a workshop on microbiome with mainly senior post-graduate students.

Speaking more on the workshop, Prof Gomez said that microbiome is a very popular field of science today, a field that everybody wants to be working on. I think this is a very good opportunity for African students in South Africa to learn how to do microbiome analyses. It’s time for us to keep fostering this collaboration and making sure students are skilled and knowledgeable on microbiome data. This is just the beginning of things we are going to do in the future. What makes me the happiest is that I am trying to provide access to skills in science which these students would not normally be exposed to. They will learn how to use this new skill in their career options, he said.

Prof Gomez was also very impressed with the students and their input at the workshop. He added that the students did amazing work and he was very surprised at how fast they grasped the concepts. This is a very difficult thing to learn as these students have never been exposed to this kind of software, computing information. It can be a steep learning curve and they have tapped into it very well. My purpose is that after this workshop they continue and begin tackling their own projects in microbiome, he said.

Prof Gomez also plans to come back to DUT and reinforce the concepts, adding that a second session was necessary for a more detailed analysis of microbiome data.

Source: Durban University of Technology