Shana J. Sturla, Zurich: Chemical Toxicology of Human Gut Microbiota

When: Mon, 17.1.2022, 16:00

Where: Online

The composition of the human gut microbiome has been linked with risks of cancer, metabolic syndrome, influences on the gut-brain axis, modulation of gut barrier integrity and of immune responses. Microbes can transform xenobiotic chemicals via a wide range of chemical reactions, and a key basis of host biological effects relates to the metabolic capacity of gut microbiota. Meanwhile, a central aspect of chemical toxicology is understanding how chemicals are converted into new forms and their impact on chemical disposition. The presentation will focus on the microbial transformation of glycerol to hydroxy propenal and its relevance for the toxicity of heterocyclic amines found in foods. Elevated functionality of this process in human microbiomes may be associated with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer, and supplementing complex gut microbiota with GDH-active strains could bring about this function. However, the mechanistic data resulting from this study reveals that these microbes are thus an endogenous source of acrolein, a toxic metabolite. Thus, contributions of detrimental vs beneficial exposures associated with microbial metabolism need to be balanced. New studies are underway to profile the chemical functionality of the gut microbiome more broadly with activity-based probes and mass spectrometric analysis of in vitro microbial fermentation reactions as a basis for better chemical risk assessment as well as the development of personalized nutrition benefits. 

Shana J. Sturla is Full Professor of Toxicology at the ETH Zurich, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. Professor Sturla was born in New York, USA and studied Chemistry at the University of California at Berkeley and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She carried out a postdoctoral fellowship in Toxicology with Professor Stephen S. Hecht at the University of Minnesota Cancer Center, where her research concerned tobacco carcinogenesis and cancer chemoprevention with dietary compounds.

In 2004, Shana became an Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota.  Her work there was recognized with an NIH Career Development Award and, as a Dominican American, she received an American Association for Cancer Research Minority Scholar in Cancer Research Award. In 2009, she joined the faculty of the ETH Zurich, as Associate Professor with tenure and in 2016 was promoted to Full Professor.

She leads the Laboratory of Toxicology at the ETH Zurich.  The goal of her research is to promote chemical, food and drug safety by elucidating the chemical basis of mutagenesis and toxicity, and to promote innovative bioanalysis strategies for predicting chemical hazards on the basis of chemical structures and reactivity, molecular responses and in vitro testing. Key areas of research interest include the study of environmental toxicants related to human disease, DNA damage and mutagenesis, drug resistance in cancer therapy and biotransformation of xenobiotics by human gut microbiota.

She teaches various courses at the ETH including Introduction to Toxicology, Biological Chemistry (Nucleic Acids), Molecular Disease Mechanisms (Cancer Section), a Laboratory Course in Toxicology, and the Carcinogenesis module for the Swiss Masters of Advanced Study in Toxicology.

Shana is the President of the Swiss Society of Toxicology, Immediate Past Chair of the American Chemical Society Division of Chemical Toxicology, Member of the Platform Chemistry of the Swiss Academies of Science, and Editor-In-Chief of Chemical Research in Toxicology.




Prof. Dr. Shana J. Sturla (© ETH Zurich/