Microbial ecologist studying how microorganisms impact health and disease in animals and plants.
- Central Appalachian Basin Geographic Region
Background And Education
I am a microbiologist with a love of salamanders. I study microorganisms in a 'friend and foe' or 'Jekyll and Hyde' context. From viruses to bacteria to microscopic fungi and worms, these microorganisms have profoundly shaped our existence and the ecosystems that surround us. They are notorious for the devastating impacts they can have, such as disease outbreaks. Yet, microorganisms that cause disease make up less than 1% of all microorganisms on Earth. The vast majority of microorganisms cause no harm to other life forms, and in many cases provide numerous benefits. In fact, we often see illness when these beneficial microbes are missing.
I identify microorganisms that cause disease and those that prevent disease. I identify the reasons why we consider some microbes friends and others foes. Much of my research focuses on a deadly disease of amphibians, called chytridiomycosis. The disease is caused by infection by two fungal pathogens. I culture and identify bacteria that can kill these pathogens, and quantify their beneficial impacts on the amphibian. In recent years, I have expanded my research to examine (i) the bacteria that live in primate milk and their relationship with primate species, (ii) the fungi that live in coffee soil and their relationship with sun vs. shade agroforestry practices, (iii) the bacteria that live in elephant guts and their relationship with infertility, (iv) the bacteria that live in red wolf guts and their relationship with gastrointestinal disorders, (v) the bacteria that live in rat guts and their relationship with whether they preyed upon native birds or not, and finally (vi) the bacteria that live in honeyguide guts and their relationship with digesting beeswax. Quite a variety of fun and exciting topics. I aim to improve our understanding of the role of microorganisms in plant and animal health.