My research focuses on life in high temperature habitats, particularly terrestrial hot springs. The study of high-temperature ecosystems (>73°C) is a major research frontier because temperature alters the ecology of these systems in ways that are important but poorly understood and because some springs are hot spots for novel, uncultivated organisms, so-called biological dark matter.
To work toward a comprehensive understanding of how individual microorganisms operate as parts of high temperature ecosystems, our group employs an integrated approach to microbial ecology, including thermodynamic modeling, spaciotemporal measurements of chemical species of interest, in situ biogeochemical processes, microbial cultivation and systematics, and genomics. This research will allow us to better understand the foundations of life in hot springs and expand our knowledge of the diversity of life on Earth.
Although much of our research focuses on hot springs of the US Great Basin, we also study other locations, particularly the Tengchong geothermal region of Yunnan Province in Southwest China. This work is part of the Tengchong PIRE project, which is a large international project funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE) program. Goals of the PIRE project are to determine how geographic location and geological setting influence microbial community structure and function and to integrate complex datasets through international cooperation.
We have also recently extended our research to tackle problems related to health through a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to work with a team of scientists to work on the development of prophylactics to prevent Clostridium difficile infections in the intestine. As part of this research, we will examine effects of antibiotics, diet, and these prophylactics on animal models of Clostridium difficile infection.