I am generally interested in the assembly and persistence of microbial communities in the environment. I use a number of approaches to better understand microbial responses to environmental change with a focus on rapid evolution via horizontal gene transfer. Most of my dissertation work focused on one mechanism of horizontal gene transfer called natural transformation, which involves the genomic integration of extracellular DNA (eDNA) straight from the environment. I have specifically focused on the ecological factors that promote the release of extracellular DNA, the rates of eDNA uptake in heterogeneous environments, as well as more fundamental questions about the maintenance of transferred genes and their effect on host fitness.
In my postdoc, I will focus on the benefits of horizontal gene transfer using the model archaeon Haloferax volcanii. This awesome archaeon carries out a unique form of horizontal gene transfer called mating, which facilitates the exchange of large gene cassettes. My work on the project focuses on the benefits of mating during colonization of a novel environment -- Mars!