Environmental Microbiology Matters

During my early years in academia, I took for granted the power of nature’s unseen forces 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 throughout 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 every one of Earth’s biomes – all 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 living harmoniously with nature.

My current research as a postdoc involves investigating ways to prevent the spread of citrus greening disease, a destructive and insect-vectored malady of citrus trees caused by the as yet uncultivated bacterium ‘Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus’. I will use a combination of genomic- and proteomic-based approaches to further our knowledge of the eco-evolutionary forces contributing to their disease state and develop and monitor the effectiveness of therapeutics to prevent disease in citrus. Prior to my current position, I studied the ecology and evolution of soil bacteria in the genus Streptomyces. I used 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.