Brief Synopsis of Research and Educational Activities
My speciality is the marine microbial ecology and geomicrobiology of hydrothermal vent systems. I also maintain interests in terrestrial and aquatic microbial ecology, microbe-macrobe symbiotic relationships, bioremediation and microbial cycles that impact global climate change. My most recent work includes the biodiversity and biogeography of the Zetaproteobacteria from several hydrothernmal vent sites across the Pacific Ocean (with Sean McAllister, WWU) as well as the discovery and description of ultra-diffuse and ultra-deep hydrothermal vents as sites of massive umber deposits at the base of Loihi Seamount as part of the Iron Microbial Observatory or FeMO (with Katrina Edwards, USC, and other FeMO team members). In addition, I have been involved with the discovery of a novel class of neutrophilic iron-oxidizing bacteria known as the Zetaproteobacteria (with David Emerson, Bigelow Labs), the demonstration that Zetaproteobacteria can act as pioneering colonizers in the formation of microbial mats (with Allen Rassa, WWU), the detection of hyper-diverse microbial communities associated with deep-ocean basalts (with Cara Santelli, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History) and the determination that vestimentiferan tubeworms can harbor more than a single population of endosymbionts associated with their trophosome (with Leslie Chao-Davis, WWU). My lab was also the first to describe multiple microbial mat communities associated with active volcanoes along the Mariana Arc region (with Rick Davis, OHSU). Beyond establishing the basic microbial census and phylogenetic information, we also identified that this area was a microbial hotspot regarding unusually high bacterial biodiversity and our discoveries were used to support the federal government's recommendation and eventual formation of the Mariana Marine Sanctuary, which is now a national monument in the Western Pacific.
Currently, my lab is examining the occurrence of unique Zetaproteobacteria residing in the deep subsurface biosphere as part of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program's (IODP) expedition 331 to hydrothermally active mounds in the Okinawa Trough (with Sean McAllister, WWU). We are also working to describe the community structure and diversity of extremophilic Archaea associated with deep-sea springs emanating pH 12.5 fluids that occur at the summit of mud volcanoes located along the Mariana Forearc (with Andrea Curtis, WWU). These microbial communities represent to upper boundary with respect to pH that life is known to exist on Earth and are fueled by serpentinization reactions occurring ~30 kilometers deep within the oceanic crust. My lab is also continuing our long-term study of iron- and sulfur-oxidizing Bacteria from the hydrothermal vents in and around the caldera at Loihi Seamount, the soon-to-be next island in the Hawaiian chain. We are presently monitoring the ecological changes in these microbial communities that have occurred after a major eruptive event using fine-scale molecular microbial techniques including qPCR and metagenomics (with Kelsey Jesser, Kevin Hager and Heather Fullerton, WWU). Other projects in the lab include, collaborating with WWU's Shannon Point Marine Center in order to conduct novel manipulative experiments on the effects of global climate change on the composition and metabolism of heterotrophic bacterioplankton in the Salish Sea (with Nam Siu and Jude Apple, WWU). We are also examining the biodiversity and biogeography of Thermococcus isolates from several distinct hydrothermal vent regions across the Pacific Ocean using AFLP and MLST analyses (Mark Price and Debbie Whitley, WWU). Finally, as an example of an undergraduate inspired and co-directed project, for the last three years we have been studying the microbial community ecotypes across a strong thermal gradient at Queen's Laundry Hot Springs in Lower Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park (with Kyle Hager et al., WWU).
My educational activities include facilitating opportunities for both undergraduates and Master's level graduate students. I am also involved with educational outreach at both the elementary and secondary levels. Myself and my students have recently participated in both science fair and culture camp activities with high school and grade school students in Hydaburg, Alaska. My teaching here at Western focuses in the areas of cell biology, microbiology, molecular phylogeny, and microbial ecology.