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Sarela Garcia-Santamarina


The Human Microbiota – Xenobiotics Interactions Lab investigates the effects of metals (and other xenobiotics) in the gut microbiota composition and function and its effects on the host by combining systems-based approaches and tailored molecular and biochemical experiments.

Sarela Garcia-Santamarina
Auxiliary Investigator (CEEC)
PhD 2013 in Biomedicine,
University Pompeu Fabra, Spain




Research Interests

The human body coexists with a vast community of microbes residing in our gut, the microbiome. By outnumbering our genes 150 to 1, the gut microbiome plays a critical role in various physiological, immunological, and metabolic processes. Hence, disruptions in its composition have been implicated in gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, psychologic, respiratory, oncologic, hepatic and autoimmune diseases.

The Human Microbiota – Xenobiotics Interactions Lab focus on specific threats to this important ecosystem: metals. Our research utilized cutting-edge technology to investigate how metals impact the gut microbiota’s composition and function, ultimately affecting our health.

Key questions we aim to answer:

  • Metal Impact on Gut Bacteria: how do different metals and metal concentrations affect the fitness and survival of gut microbes? Can metals disrupt the balance of bacterial communities, allowing harmful pathogens to outcompete beneficial ones?
  • Metal and Microbiome Metabolism: the gut microbiota relies heavily on enzymes containing metals (metalloenzymes) for various functions. How do different metal environments influence this crucial metabolic activity?
  • Two-way Interactions of Metal Absorption: how does the gut microbiota influence the absorption of metals (or metal-dependent metabolites) by human cells? Conversely, how does metal uptake by host cells affect the gut microbiome’s composition and function?

Our long-term goal is to contribute to a better understanding of microbial physiology and responses to fluctuating micronutrient concentrations. This knowledge, coupled with insights into host-microbial interactions, will be crucial for improving human nutrition. Future research will expand to pathophysiological conditions, particularly those where competition for nutrients between host cells and microbes plays a role, such as inflammatory bowel disease and cancer.

Group Members

  • Joana Cavadas, BI Fellow
  • Ons Bouchami, Postdoc
  • Rita Pires, MSc student

Selected Publications

  1. Garcia-Santamarina S.*, Kuhn M. *, Devendran S., Maier L., Driessen M., Mateus M., Mastrorilli E., Brochado A.R., Savitski MM., Patil KR., Zimmermann M., Bork P., Typas A. (2023) Emergence of community behaviors in the gut microbiota upon drug treatment. bioRxiv.
  2. Müller P., de la Cuesta-Zuluaga J., Kuhn M., Baghai Arassi M., Treis T., Blasche S., Zimmermann M., Bork P., Patil K.R., Typas A., Garcia-Santamarina S.#, Maier L.# (2023). High-Throughput Anaerobic Screening for Identifying Compounds Acting Against Gut Bacteria in Monocultures or Communities, Nature Protocols,  # Co-corresponding
  3. Wuyts S., Alves R., Zimmermann-Kogadeeva M., Nishijima S., Blasche S., Driessen M., Geyer F.E., Hercog R., Kartal E., Maier L., Müller J.B., Garcia-Santamarina S., Schmidt T.S.B., Sevin D.C., Telzerow A., Treit P.V., Wenzel T., Typas A., Patil K.R., Mann M., Kuhn M., Bork P. (2023) Consistency across multi-omics layers in a drug-perturbed gut microbial community. Molecular Systems Biology e11525.
  4. Maier L., Goemans C., Wirbel J., Kuhn M., Eberl C., Pruteanu M., Müller P., Garcia-Santamarina S., Cacace E., Zhang B., Gekeler C., Banerjee T., Anderson E., Milanese A., Loeber U., Forslund S., Patil K., Zimmermann M., Stecher B., Zeller G., Bork P., Typas A. (2021) Unravelling the collateral damage of antibiotics on gut bacteria. Nature 599, 120-124.


* Co-author | # Co-corresponding author

Laboratory's Website

For further information visit the laboratory's website.

Interações da microbiota humana com xenobióticos (PT)

A microbiota intestinal tem sido postulada nos últimos anos como um fator de grande relevância para a saúde, com influência numa variedade de processos fisiológicos, imunológicos e metabólicos. Assim, as alterações no microbioma têm sido associadas a doenças gastrointestinais, cardiovasculares, psicológicas, respiratórias, oncológicas, hepáticas e autoimunes.

As substâncias que ingerimos, nutrientes, fármacos, entre outros, influenciam muito a composição e função da microbiota intestinal e a sua interação com o hospedeiro. Entre estas substâncias estão os metais de transição, que, apesar de essenciais à vida, tanto para a microbiota como para o hospedeiro, em excesso são tóxicos. Com a nossa investigação, pretendemos compreender melhor a fisiologia e as respostas microbianas às variações nos micronutrientes, neste caso os metais de transição, bem como as interações microbiota-hospedeiro, que podem ter um impacto direto na nutrição e na saúde do hospedeiro.


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