Bacteria and Archaea are ubiquitous in the environment and play essential roles in the cycling of elements. These environmental microbes are capable of catalyzing a wide array of chemical reactions, many of which may have industrial applications. We are interested in how members of complex microbial communities can cooperate to perform functions of industrial interest. The majority of microbes in the environment are difficult to grow in the lab. Furthermore, many industrially-relevant pathways are found in microbes not yet grown in the lab. We seek to employ both culture-based and culture-independent methods to understand how these microbial communities respond to anthropogenic activity and environmental change and how we might leverage these microbes for a biotechnological application.

 

Freshwater Oil Biodegradation

Oil is routinely transported across or over many freshwater ecosystems.  Oil spills have impacted a number of ecosystems including a number of freshwater environments.  Microbes in these settings have the ability to degrade many of the components of oil.  This was recently shown to be the case in the microbes present in the Gulf of Mexico during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  In this case many of the marine microbes that responded to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill were well-adapted for growth under very cold temperatures.  Very little is known about how microbial communities in lakes and streams would respond to released oil.  Even less is known about the fate of this oil under cold temperatures.  We are interested in investigating the oil biodegradation potential of freshwater microbial communities.

The Environmental Impacts of Biocide Use

Biocides are routinely used in both household and industrial applications.  Biocides have the potential to detrimentally impact natural ecosystems through accidental releases or though low level exposures.  We are interested in better understanding the impact of biocide use on natural ecosystems.  In particular, we are interestedin understanding the impacts of biocides associated with hydraulic fracturing.  Biocides are used in hydraulic fracturing operations as a means of controlling microbial growth and preventing biofouling of equipment. Exposure to low levels of biocides has the potential for select for biocide resistant microbes in natural systems.  We are interested in characterizing the impact of biocides associed with hydraulic fracturing on selecting for both biocide and antibiotic resistance in streams impacted by hydraulic fracturing.

Microbial Communities as Biosensors

Microbial communities are able to rapidly respond to environmental change and anthropogenic activity.  The composition of a microbial community has the potential to be used as a biosensor of a particular phenomenon.  We are interested in identifying particular microbial taxa or genes that may be used as biosensors of anthropogenic activity.  We are seeking to use metagenomic and metatranscriptomic techniques to identify biomarkers for various anthropogenic activities.  We are hoping to use these biomarkers as tools for environmental monitoring.