Velma Aho

The coronavirus pandemic made the microscopic visitors of the human body more visible than ever, but most of our microbial companions do not cause disease. Among the permanent inhabitants of our bodies are many innocuous or even helpful microbes, which can for example protect us from harmful species, or break down nutritional components that we’re unable to digest ourselves. This ensemble of microbes is called the human microbiome. Modern molecular biology has provided us with the tools to study the microbiome in great detail, and the results confirm that in addition to single microbes, also microbial communities as a whole can influence health and disease.

I’ve always been fascinated by the microbial world that surrounds us, and I began to learn about the computational tools used for microbiome research in my master’s studies. In my doctoral thesis (2019, University of Helsinki), I studied the connections of the human microbiome and Parkinson’s disease. I focused mainly on gut microbes, but I also compared oral and nasal microbes; out of these three, there are clear differences in the gut and oral microbial communities of patients and healthy controls. Since 2020, I’ve continued my research on the topic at the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine, University of Luxembourg, where I use multiple different approaches to explore the microbes of people with Parkinson’s disease. Detailed understanding of their microbial communities can help us explain the development of the disease, and lead to potential new treatments.

Twitter: @velma_te_a