Meet Pendulum’s Senior Scientist, Maggie Stoeva, Ph.D.
Maggie Stoeva is a senior scientist on the Molecular Team at Pendulum. She received her Ph.D. in Microbiology at the University of California, Berkeley, in the Coates laboratory of applied and environmental microbiology. Her research focused on sulfate-reducing microbes: ubiquitous, anaerobic “bugs” with economic, environmental and human-health consequences. She investigated how sulfate-reducers cope with stressors, such as inhibitory compounds, both on an ecological and molecular scale, and uncovered novel cellular targets of inhibition as well as community-wide patterns resulting from the application of inhibitors.
Maggie is excited by the diversity and complexity of microbial metabolisms, and the possibility of harnessing them for human and environmental health.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, and what does it take to become a senior scientist?
I joined Pendulum a little over 2 years ago, when it was still quite a small company. I came straight out of grad school, and was excited to start solving ‘real world’ problems! I am not sure I can answer the second half of that question; we have so many different kinds of scientists at Pendulum, with different expertise. That’s part of what makes it fun to work here!
Why did you become a scientist and what drew you to this field?
I have always liked biology. It’s full of fun facts, is relatable, and has loads of unsolved mysteries! I was drawn to microbiology specifically, in college, when I realized these tiny organisms can do it all. They have all sorts of crazy superpowers, from eating plastics, to detoxifying pollutants, to surviving nuclear explosions! A pretty awesome set of superheros! Especially when you start thinking of how to harness their power.
What excites you about your work at Pendulum?
The human gut microbiome and its connection to human health is a field that has literally exploded in the past decade. In a very real and interesting way! There is amazing science happening out there (and in here!) expanding our understanding of how our microbiomes shape who we are. I think there has been a real shift to thinking of humans as a collection of organisms (YOU and YOUR BUGS) and I think this kind of thinking will be powerful in unleashing new therapies and new solutions to old problems. It’s a very exciting field to be a part of, especially when you get to work with great people everyday! Of course, apart from the subject matter, it has been great to see a small start-up company evolve through so many stages!
You co-authored a study that was just recently published, Butyrate-producing human gut symbiont, Clostridium butyricum, and its role in health and disease. Briefly, can you tell us what this was about?
Sure! As the title implies, this publication reviewed all sorts of information regarding a very special gut bug, “Clostridium butyricum” (one of the strains in our Pendulum Glucose Control) and its effect on human health. Clostridium butyricum makes an important metabolite, butyrate, when happily living in our guts and chewing on fiber. Butyrate has been shown to be beneficial for all sorts of ailments, from things like “leaky gut syndrome”, through metabolic disorders, to colorectal cancer. And because of this, consumption of Clostridium butyricum has also been studied in animal models of various diseases as well as in humans (in a couple cases)! We thought it would be helpful to compile all the effects that consuming this probiotic has, across all these studies, in one single place! We also tried to pay special attention to why and how Clostridium butyricum can be so magical!
What do you want to achieve with your research?
It would be great to contribute to developing a mechanistic understanding of the human gut microbiome. Which molecules, under which circumstances, have which kinds of effects. Ideally in humans (most of the research out there is in mouse or rat models of human diseases)! I also love the “discovery” aspect of my work. It is exciting to think about what the future holds: what kinds of bugs might prove interesting for future products? How do we predict that and how do we get our hands on them? How can we go about bringing them to market, demonstrating that they are safe and efficacious, in a timely manner? Lots of people are trying to solve these questions; it’s really neat to help build this dream scenario, where we have an efficient pipeline for getting great microbiome-based products.
What do people inevitably ask you when they find out what you do? I’m sure there must be some fun ones!
You work with poooo?!?! Do you have to touch it?! Does it smell!!! Do you know whose poo it is? Haha, yes we work with poo! Where do you think gut microbes are isolated from?! But luckily the “poo” quickly and safely transitions to microbial cultures and isolates, and so it really isn’t so different, in the end, from working with any other sample type. I spent a lot of my Ph.D. working with gunky, anoxic sediment from the San Francisco Bay, and I can honestly say that those samples didn’t smell or look that great either!
How do you like to spend your time off from work?
Hmmm well, now I have a 5-month old baby! So the answer to that question has changed a little! But we still try to spend lots of time outdoors with friends!