I am a Life Sciences Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow, and a Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology Fellow
at the University of Illinois.
My research falls at the intersection of microbial physiology and evolution: I employ techniques from both fields to understand the fundamental biology of methanogenic and methanotrophic Archaea, an important class of organisms within the third domain of Life, with wide-ranging implications in climate change, renewable fuels, and human health.
Methane is a tremendous societal burden and a valuable resource: on the one hand, it is a potent greenhouse gas, and on the other, it is a cheap, renewable fuel with immense potential for manufacturing value-added chemicals. Technological advances are needed at both ends: for mitigating atmospheric emissions, as well as converting organic-rich effluents to methane. At the heart of these problems, and their solutions, lie methanogenic and methanotrophic archaea: the primary producers and consumers of methane respectively.
Despite being ubiquitous, archaea are among the least-characterized life forms on Earth. A strictly anoxic lifestyle and slow growth have particularly impeded comprehensive studies of methanogenic and methanotrophic archaea; therefore our understanding of these pivotal microorganisms is severely deficient. By integrating an evolutionary framework with a rapid, multiplexed genome editing toolkit my research aims to overcome these roadblocks. In on-going work, I am designing a wide-range of experimental platforms to test prevailing hypotheses, as well as discover novel and unique features of methanogenic and methanotrophic archaea.
Broadly, I work at the intersection of physiology and evolution to understand the fundamental and distinctive biology of methanogenic and methanotrophic archaea, from a cellular, organismal, and community perspective. This knowledge is key to designing optimized solutions for aforementioned environmental and biotechnological problems.
I served as the Vice-Chair (in 2014) and Chair (in 2016) for the Gordon Research Seminar (GRS) on the ‘Molecular Basis of Microbial One-Carbon Metabolism’. This seminar is held for two days prior to the corresponding Gordon Research Conference (GRC) and is organized by and for early-career scientists. As the Chair, my duties involved screening and selecting ~50 participants from all over the globe, inviting prominent scientists as keynote speakers and discussion leaders, and also acquiring external funding for the meeting. In addition, I developed a mentorship component for the 2016 meeting titled ‘Scientific careers beyond the PhD and postdoc’, which included scientists from industry and academia as well as a senior editor for Science.
As a graduate student at Harvard, I helped establish the Microbial Sciences Initiative (MSI) summer journal club, and was in-charge of running this cross-disciplinary event for its first two years. The MSI journal club is now in its sixth year, and continues to attract a number of graduate students and postdocs across campus.
I have actively sought out a number of outreach activities as a PhD student and PostDoc.
I have designed a broadly accessible talk on the microbiology of food and drink, and delivered it at a number of venues, including the Chambana Science Cafe in Urbana, the Beacon Hill Seminars, and the Science in the News Lecture Series at the Harvard Medical School. I have used this talk as a vehicle to introduce some of my work on microbial evolution and physiology. Please email me if you'd like to use my slides! I have also collaborated with a cheese monger to culture and showcase the fascinating microbiology of cheese at the Cambridge Science Festival. I have also presented a talk titled ‘The role of hops and the mechanism of bacterial resistance to hops’ at an MSI (Microbial Science Initiative) workshop.
I designed an activity for the Carl R. Woese Institute of Genomic Biology Genome Day highlighting the extremophilic nature of archaea, targeted at kids in grades K-4. The activity showcased archaea as superheroes with extremophilic superpowers and the goal was to match superheros with an appropriate superpower that will allow them to inhabit various extreme environments on our Planet. If you're a science teacher and would like to use this activity in your class, I would love to speak to you — please reach out!