- Assistant Professor, beginning January 2012
Ph.D. Applied Biological Sciences, LabMET, Universiteit Gent, Belgium, 2005
- University of Michigan
1141 Kraus Natural Science Building
830 North University
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1048
- Phone: (734) 764-6481
- Fax: (734) 763-0544
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
My initial training as a biological engineer kindled my interest in trying to understand environmental processes by unraveling the molecular machinery at their basis. Based on this background and the appreciation of the important roles of microbes in nature’s geochemical cycles, my current research focuses on the connection between microbial genome evolution and altered ecological behavior. Improved insights into how microbial communities function and respond to change might inform microbial resource management strategies, particularly in the context of climate change mitigation. Increasing evidence, including from my own work, indicates that subtle genetic variation between closely related microbial populations can significantly affect their environmental distribution, and alter their response to perturbations. These observations lead to the question at what level of resolution microbial communities need to be studied to draw meaningful correlations between ecological phenomena and system function. Yet, studies within ecosystem context that focus on the effects of strain dynamics on function remain scarce.
Work in my laboratory focuses on questions at the interface of evolution and ecology:
(i) How do fine-scale evolutionary processes impact ecological differentiation?
(ii) What is the impact of strain-level ecological differentiation on community functioning?
(iii) how does human disturbance of the local and global environment drive microbial evolutionary trajectories?
In my view, these questions are universally relevant, and therefore can be addressed in many suitable model systems, which I choose based on their suitability to tackle these core questions. Initially, I would like to address them in the context of the microbial contributions to the carbon cycle in the Laurentian Great Lakes. Most freshwater lakes are net CO2 emitters due to yearly processing of an estimated 1.9 Pg terrestrial carbon, nearly half of which is emitted. Relative to their surface area, lakes are disproportionally active sites for carbon cycling, in which heterotrophic bacteria play important roles. Yet, limited mechanistic understanding of relationships between resource availability, physicochemical parameters, and microbial metabolism leads to inaccurate predictions for the response of these systems to short- and long-term change. The Laurentian Great Lakes are highly relevant as a study system. They are the largest surface freshwater system in the world and are threatened by significant regional changes in the next century due to climate change. A set of subtle gradients (e.g., temperature, trophic state) due to their geographic range and differences in watershed characteristics makes them well suited to my questions of interest. At broad classification levels (e.g., bacteria, flagellated protozoa, phytoplankton), a similar planktonic food web structure exists across the lakes. Yet, limited insights exist whether locally adapted microbial communities persist and, if present, how such biological gradients affect system functioning and its response to perturbations.
Building on my experience with more traditional microbial physiology and genetics methods, I am currently using metagenomic and metaproteomic approaches to gather systems-level understanding of microbial community functioning. Although these techniques have been most successfully applied in systems with low species richness such as the acid mine drainage communities I studied during my post-doctoral work, recent advances in sequencing technology, cell sorting, and mass spectrometry are enabling us to assess the genomic make-up of microbial populations and expression of their genetic potential in ever more complex systems.
Why UM EEB:
Joining EEB as part of the cross-disciplinary program in microbial ecology allows me to study fundamental concepts regarding the interrelation of evolution and ecology that enhance our understanding of the microbial contributions to ecosystem functioning. New insights from research performed by the members of this research cluster will hopefully contribute to tackling current societal challenges related to climate change, sustainability, bio-energy, and the role of microbes in plant, animal, and human health.