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Is there a relationship between nutrition, microbiome and antenatal depression?

A postgraduate research opportunity at the University of Otago.


Academic background
Sciences, Health Sciences
Host campus
Master’s, PhD
Pathology and Molecular Medicine (Wellington)
Dr Aaron Stevens, Dr Michelle Thunders, Professor Julia Rucklidge (Canterbury)


A postgraduate research opportunity is now available at the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine, Wellington. We are seeking a student who has an interest in microbiology and / or genetics. A knowledge of statistics with a basic understanding of computer coding will also be an advantage.

The human gut microbiome breaks down food into utilizable energy sources, and is therefore essential for maintaining healthy metabolism and nutrition. There is a well-established pathway for bidirectional communication between the gut and the brain, which is referred to as the gut-brain axis. Through this pathway metabolites can act as modulators in the development and progression of several diseases and disorders. Although the exact mechanisms are not fully understood, increasing evidence suggests that gut microbiome dysbiosis may be linked with a growing list of human brain disorders, including depression. Diet is thought to be one of the most influential factors on the microbiome, and it has been hypothesized that alterations in the human gut microbiota by micronutrients may have a biochemical effect via the gut-brain axis. This project will investigate the effects of high dose micronutrient administration on the human microbiome, with relevance to the development of antenatal depression.

We are currently performing a 10-week randomised control trial in a cohort of pregnant women to investigate if micronutrient administration is associated with beneficial outcomes for antenatal depression. The laboratory based procedures will involve DNA extraction and sequencing of the human microbiome contents from this trial, using 16s rDNA sequencing. Changes in the bacterial composition during the trial will then be investigated with respect to both micronutrient treatment and the development of antenatal depression. This project will largely consistent of bioinformatic analyses, where data visualisation and statistical analysis will be performed using packages within Python and R.


Dr Aaron Stevens