EMBL-EBI, Wellcome Sanger Institute
Phycology, Metagenomics, Bioinformatics, Symbiosis, Community ecology
I am an ecologist interested in applying modern molecular techniques to characterize ecological community structures and species interactions.
At the end of my undergraduate education, I knew I was interested in plant sciences but ended up unexpectedly falling in love with the field of phycology – the study of algae. Phycology allowed me to combine my interest in photosynthetic organisms and water. I completed my PhD at the Department of Biology at the University of Waterloo in Canada where I joined an interdisciplinary research network focusing on water quality and drinking water treatment. I was able to connect my interest in algae to water quality by studying cyanobacteria (a group of potentially toxic bacteria commonly found in water bodies) using DNA sequencing.
Currently, I am an ESPOD fellow at EMBL-EBI and the Wellcome Sanger Institute working with Rob Finn and Mark Blaxter studying lichen symbiosis using metagenomics. Metagenomic approaches utilize DNA sequences from all organisms present in an environmental sample and allows us to answer questions about “who’s there?” (i.e. microbial community composition and structure) and “what are they doing?” (i.e. prediction of potential functions based on gene content). Lichens have traditionally been viewed as the symbiotic association between a fungal and algal partner but recently have been shown to host additional microbes which may be involved in the symbiotic association. Shifting from aquatic ecology to symbiosis biology with the study of lichens has provided an excellent opportunity to explore how metagenomic datasets can provide information on species interactions and to explore the biology of algal symbionts.