2021 Judith H. Greenberg Early Career Investigator Lecture

Looking for Lipids in All the Right Places: Host-Microbiome Interactions​

Headshot of Speaker, Dr. Elizabeth Johnson Credit: Dr. Elizabeth Johnson.​​

Elizabeth Johnson, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Division of Nutritional Sciences
Cornell University

Lecture followed by Q&A session

Zoom and NIH Videocast​​​
Start Date:
9/29/21 Time: 1:00 PM ET
End Date:
9/29/21 Time: 2:00 PM ET​
Live Video Icon.Watch 2021 ​Lecture​

​Research Summary

Trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms that call your body home are collectively known as your microbiome. The exchange of compounds (mixtures of molecules) between your microbiome and your own cells allows good bacteria to thrive in your gut; it may also enable the microbiome to help protect the body against some diseases. By identifying important molecules transferred, researchers can provide new targets for medicines. However, determining the origins and roles of specific microbiome-derived compounds has been challenging.

Sphingolipids are one group of molecules that influence host-microbiome interactions but aren’t thoroughly understood. They serve as signaling and structural molecules and are produced by humans, animals, plants, and a few bacterial species. Dr. Johnson’s research group has traced bacterial sphingolipids to newly observed locations in the body and found that these molecules affect host signaling pathways. Continuing the search for sphingolipids that influence host-microbe interactions could ultimately enable precise control over microbiome makeup and host health.

Biographical Sketch

Dr. Elizabeth Johnson is an assistant professor of molecular nutrition at Cornell University. Her research program focuses on understanding how lipids mediate diet-microbiome-host interactions with the goal of manipulating these interactions for the benefit of host health. She studied biology at Spelman College before receiving a National Science Foundation graduate research fellowship to pursue a Ph.D. investigating cell cycle transcriptomics at Princeton University. Dr. Johnson went on to study lipid-dependent host-microbe interactions during her postdoctoral training before joining the faculty at Cornell University in the division of nutritional sciences. A CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholar in the Humans & the Microbiome program, she enjoys thinking about the importance of host-microbe interactions in early life and finds much inspiration from her two small gut microbiome sample generators.


Lee, M.T., Le, H.H., Johnson, E.L. Dietary sphinganine is selectively assimilated by members of the mammalian gut microbiome. Journal of Lipid Research​. (2020). doi: 10.1194/jlr.RA120000950.

Johnson, E.L., Heaver, S.L., Waters, J.L. et al. Sphingolipids produced by gut bacteria enter host metabolic pathways impacting ceramide levels. Nature Communications 11, 2471 (2020). doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-16274-w.