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.
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