Do fungi hold the key to healthy fatty-acid metabolism?

University of Auckland Liggins Institute

University of Auckland

The human gut teems with a vast ecosystem of bacteria, fungi, viruses, archaea and invertebrates – the gut microbiome. Current research is focused on bacteria, yet symbiotic fungi – the mycobiome – represents a significant biomass that potentially plays a critical role in nutrition and immunity. The few studies that exist on gut fungi reveal striking differences between healthy and obese individuals. Faecal metabolite profiling of individuals predisposed to diabetes and obesity also showed altered methylketones, fatty acids and elevated levels of butyrolactone - a microbial signalling compound. Methylketones are metabolites produced by fungally mediated fatty acid metabolism in cultured foods like cheese. However, this process has not yet been demonstrated in humans.

Using radioisotope labelling and Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption Ionisation Time of Flight Imaging Mass Spectrometry, this multidisciplinary study will identify gut fungi and their metabolites, and will shed light on how they are distributed in faeces and what fungal structures produce metabolites. This could reveal a major microbially mediated pathway for metabolism of fatty acids in humans. Understanding the role of the mycobiome in the gut can help uncover the processes leading to metabolic dysregulation, which will aid the development of treatment interventions and preventive measures.


1. Develop a method for real-time visualisation of faecal fungi and their metabolites using
2. Identify faecal fungi and their metabolites using mass spectrometry and obtain images of fungi and their metabolites in both faeces and faecal cultures;
3. Isolate fungal cultures from faeces and use isotopic labelling of nutrients to investigate
origin of methylketones;
4. Determine the effect of γ-butyrolactone on growth habit and/or ratios of fatty acids to methylketones.

What we are looking for in a successful applicant:

B+ average or better in final year of undergraduate degree.
Some experience with biochemistry/organic chemistry desirable.
OK working with human faeces.
Enjoys writing
Curious, creative thinker
Conscientious, attention to detail

Other information:

This Project is funded by an FRDF grant and starts as soon as a suitable candidate is found.

Study information



Study mode:


Start month:

Flexible: the project will start as soon as a suitable candidate is found.

Entry requirements:

B+ average or better in final year of undergraduate degree.

Funding information



Funding applies to:
Open to applicants from a range of countries

Contacts and how to apply

Academic contact:

Dr Liz McKenzie

Administrative contact and how to apply:

To start the application process, please contact Academic Director Professor Mark Vickers
Phone: +64 9 923 6687 or 0064 (0) 272 736 820