Environmental Microbiology Matters

For two-thirds of my life I took for granted the power of the unseen forces of nature unfolding around me. Neither divine nor occult, these microscopic creatures I’m referring to are tirelessly at work in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and within and on our bodies, providing vital support in our daily lives. Aside from microbes’ obvious utility from an anthropocentric viewpoint (yay beer and antibiotics!), microorganisms are crucial for the breakdown and turnover of organic matter and promoting nutrient cycling in all of Earth’s biomes – all of life depends on them. Specifically, microbial activity converts solids to gases, transforms metals, and can even produce life-sustaining building blocks from thin air. Furthering our understanding of these enigmatic creatures will be critical to mitigating or controlling microbial activity and live harmoniously with nature.

My current research as a postdoc involves understanding the ecology and evolution of soil bacteria in the genus Streptomyces. I use a combination of molecular and omics approaches to better understand the impact of drift, dispersal, selection, and speciation on Streptomyces biogeography and ecology. During my PhD, I studied theoretical and applied aspects of nitrogen (N) cycling, fungi, and interconnections between fungi and bacteria involved in N-cycling. I utilized experimental, molecular, and computational approaches to investigate diverse groups of fungi and bacteria involved in the N-cycle in order to enhance our understanding of soil microbes’ contributions to greenhouse gas emissions.