Assistant Professor of Microbiology
Ph.D., Microbiology, University of California Berkeley, 2006
Because microbes embody the vast diversity of life and are major drivers of earth’s biogeochemical cycles, my work focuses on understanding microbes both from individual physiological perspectives as well as broad ecological perspectives. Specifically, I am interested in effects that climate change has on soil microbial communities, and applying results towards improvement of next generation biofuels. We aim to examine soil carbon dynamics, with focus on microbial carbon storage and greenhouse gas emissions in the rhizosphere and within the context of plant-microbial interactions.
The microbial role in ecosystem function is difficult to define partly because microbial functions feed back at many scales. At the single cell scale, they sense and respond to their environments through two-component regulatory systems. At the population-level scale, there are myriad chemical inter- and intra-species communications that control group behaviors. At the community scale, composition changes with environmental factors, altering nutrient pools and process rates. My research program is intended to address this problem by addressing the following questions: How are microbial community structure and function related? What interactions with the environment or with other organisms control microbial activity? What can be gained or lost from examining natural versus controlled, laboratory systems?
Research projects in the lab are aimed at (1) effect of climate change on soil carbon storage in the rhizosphere, and (2) applying anaerobic bacterial decomposition to biofuels development. The rhizosphere experiments aim to test the hypotheses that warming due to climate change has substantial effects on soil microbial community structure and function due to changes in plant carbon allocation to the roots. The anaerobic decomposition experiments are aimed at discovering the nature of bacterial anaerobic decomposition in tropical and temperate forest soils. Understanding how ecosystems and microbes cycle carbon is important for soils as storage reservoirs as well as microbes and plants that mediate the greenhouse gasses carbon dioxide and methane through their interactions. By integrating approaches rooted in biogeochemistry and molecular microbiology, we may begin to unravel how perturbations affect terrestrial ecosystems, and to extract methods for renewable energy strategies of the future.