I study how host-microbe interactions affect ecology and evolution from the single cells to ecosystems. My focus is on the costs and benefits conferred on the host by the microbiota, particularly under environmental change. I do this work with a variety of experimental and observational techniques in a range of animal systems in my capacity as a Junior Fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows. Right now, I am working primarily on:
Microbes & Domestication
Domestic animals and their wild relatives differ in their genetics, diets, environments, and, as we newly appreciate, their microbiota. We hypothesize that changes in the microbiota helped animals adapt to their new diets and environments during domestication. To test this, we are performing diet and microbial manipulation experiments with domestic and wild mice as well as testing for variation in microbial composition and nutrient availability associated with genetic differences in wild/domestic pairs.
This work is being conducted in collaboration with Rachel Carmody and her Nutritional & Microbial Ecology Lab in the Human Evolutionary Biology department at Harvard.
Changing Seas & Changing Microbes
The ocean contains large abiotic variation that expose animals and their associated microbes to environmental extremes never experienced on land. How do host associated microbial communities buffer their animal hosts to low oxygen, high pressure, 20C gradients, or changing nutrient availability? And how will this manifest in a future of global climate change? We are studying these questions (and more!) in a new ocean invertebrate model system--Northern Shrimp (seen at left) from the Massachusetts Bay.
This work is being done in Peter Girguis' lab in Harvard's Organismal and Evolutionary Biology department.
My dissertation, completed at Duke University with Lawrence David and Justin Wright, focused on finding drivers of ecological dynamics in microbial systems. I identified nitrogen limitation as a pervasive feature of the mammalian gut and investigated microbiota succession during and following antibiotic treatment. I also studied what structures soil microbial communities in cities and old fields.