Ph.D. Columbia University, 2003
I am interested in microbial stress resistance and survival in metal-contaminated environments. Microorganisms are currently being exploited for their ability to remediate both metals and organic contaminants, which often occur together at one site. However, metal contaminated environments exhibit a marked decrease in the diversity of microbial taxa relative to pristine environments.
Currently, microbial responses to stress have been well characterized for only a few select microorganisms, mostly "model" organisms relevant to medicine or biotechnology. While this offers a stepping-stone towards understanding the stress responses of microorganisms in the environment, conserved pathways could be regulated or utilized in fundamentally different ways in environmental microorganisms. As fully sequenced genomes become available for these microorganisms, we will be able to harness many of the most powerful genetic techniques.
I am particularly interested the biogeochemical cycle of mercury in groundwater. Mercury contamination is a public health issue due to the biomagnifications of methyl mercury in food fish. Due to the profound differences in the geochemistry and microbial communities between groundwater aquifers and surface waters, prior investigations offer little predictive value for assessing either the effects of microorganisms on mercury, or the toxicity of mercury to microbial communities in the subsurface.
Wang Y, Wiatrowski HA, John R, Lin C, Young LY, Kerkhof LJ, Yee N, Barkay T (2013) Impact of mercury on denitrification and denitrifying microbial communities in nitrate enrichments of subsurface sediments. Biodegredation 24(1): 33-46
The following paper was submitted with 5th year student Kyle Denton and students in her First Year Seminar class in 2009:
Denton K, Atkinson MM, Borenstein SP, Carlson A, Carroll T, Cullity K, DeMarsico C, Ellowitz D, Gialtouridis A, Gore R, Herleikson A, Ling AY, Martin R, McMahan K, Naksukpaiboon P, Seiz A, Yearwood K, O’Neill J, Wiatrowski H (Submitted) Identification of a possible respiratory arsenate reductase in Denitrovibrio acetiphilus, a member of the phylum Deferribacteres.
Wiatrowski, H. A., Ward, P.M., and T. Barkay (2006). "Novel reduction of mercury(II) by mercury-sensitive dissimilatory metal reducing bacteria". Environmental Science and Technology 40(21): 6690-6696.
Wiatrowski, H. A., and T. Barkay (2005). “Monitoring of microbial metal transformations in the environment”. Current Opinions in Biotechnology 16(3): 261-268.
Min, M. Z., Xu, H. F., Barton, L. L., Wang, J., Peng, X. J., and H. Wiatrowski (2005). “Biomineralization of uranium by Desulfovibrio desulfuricans DSM 642; a simulated experiment and its significance”. Acta Geologica Sinica – English Edition 79(1): 134-138.
Department of Energy Environmental Remediation Sciences Program “Microbial reduction of mercury in saturated subsurface sediments and its potential to mobilize mercury in its elemental form”. Tamar Barkay (Lead PI). Heather A. Wiatrowski, Nathan Yee, Ravi Kukkadapu, Lily Y. Young, and Gerben Zylstra (Co-PIs). $997,749.00 August 2008 – July 2011.