For most of Earth's history, microbes have governed the cycling of carbon and nutrients, contributing to nearly all of the genetic and metabolic diversity present within today's planetary biodiversity. Exploring this microbial diversity in aquatic, terrestrial and host-associated environments, my lab has three main research foci. Firstly, we develop and apply methods for investigating the taxonomic diversity of microbial communities, trying to understand how these communities are structured in relation to, for example, environmental disturbances or human diseases. Importantly, we are developing computational and molecular methods for revealing the identity and functions of microorganisms that exist at low relative abundance (i.e. "the rare biosphere") and have escaped detection by previous methodologies.
We link the ability of active microorganisms to assimilate carbon sources with their genomic information using incubations with stable-isotope labelled compounds (e.g. stable-isotope probing; SIP).These ongoing studies have potential applications for industry given that we are now focusing on retrieving novel glycosyl hydrolases from microbes that consume important substrates such as cellulose and other plant-derived carbon compounds.
My lab investigates nitrogen cycling in aquatic and terrestrial environments. For example, we are now studying the poorly understood role of Archaea in oxidizing ammonia in engineered environments by combining both cultivation dependent and cultivation independent approaches.