The study of microbial community (microbiota) associations with various taxa is a research area that has exploded in breadth and importance in the last decade. This enormous surge in research interest is in large part due to the availability of high-throughput molecular instrumentation and techniques that are growing at a rate generally seen as outpacing Moore’s Law. The importance of individual- and population-level microbial communities has become apparent in contexts ranging from individual health to long-term evolutionary implications.
My dissertation research focused on the role of microbial communities in an amphibian disease system. Specifically, the amphibian fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis has been implicated as a major contributor to amphibian declines and extinction events. The role of the amphibian cutaneous microbiota has been of interest in this disease system for the development of an exploitative probiotic based protection. This work included studying the community-level effects of the Gammaproteobacteria Serratia marcescens and how it influences host susceptibility to chytridiomycosis. Mechanistic elucidations from this bacteria, a common member of amphibian microbial communities, showed that production of specific metabolites has the potential for large effects on resulting bacterial community structure. The information from this work is important from both a basic standpoint in understanding host-microbiota interactions, as well as from an applied standpoint in developing novel tools for treating amphibian chytridiomycosis and protecting at-risk amphibian species.
My current research as a postdoc at Mayo Clinic is focused on the ecology and evolution of human bacteriophage communities. This includes mechanisms underlying bacteria-bacteriophage interactions and the role of bacteriophage evolution in host-associated bacterial community composition and function. In addition to phage community dynamics and evolution, I am also working with other members of the Walther-Antonio lab (Mayo Clinic) on examining hypothesized transformation mechanisms of putative oncogenic bacteria in the human gut. This work includes both in vitro experiments as well as in vivo examination of human microbiota dynamics.