National Research Program | Reston Microbiology Lab

Research

Microbes, the unseen majority of organisms on our planet, catalyze reactions of global importance by driving biogeochemical cycles. By carrying out oxidation and reduction reactions, microbes control the availability of many nutrients and trace elements for other organisms and determine the fate of pollutants in the environment. Understanding the effects of microbes on biogeochemical processes requires linking the structure of microbial communities (e.g., phylogeny and identity) with their function (e.g., metabolism and mineral interactions) within their environment.

I study these links using an interdisciplinary approach to microbial ecology and biogeochemistry with traditional microbiology methods, state-of-the-art molecular and geochemical techniques, and electron microscopy. In order to understand how microorganisms impact their environment and biogeochemical cycles and in turn, how an environment impacts microorganisms, I investigate both contaminated and pristine environments. I focus primarily on bioremediation and natural attenuation in lakes, soils, and terrestrial sediments, and the geomicrobiology of pristine aquifers caves, pitcher plants, and salt marshes.

Current Projects

Contaminant Geochemistry

Sampling the Gessen Creek with Felix Environmental contamination with radionuclides and heavy metals is a global problem resulting from nuclear weapons production during the Cold War Era. Microbial activity may limit the mobility of contaminants through natural attenuation or bioremediation where organisms, such as fungi, plants and bacteria, naturally reduce, eliminate, or contain hazardous particles. These processes differ, as bioremediation increases the activity of.. read more

Geomicrobiology of Pristine Environments

Photo of the Herrenberg Cave As microbes are the drivers of biogeochemical cycles, understanding their impact on life-sustaining processes starts with an understanding of their biodiversity in pristine habitats. I am interested in understanding the microbiology of the Earth´s Critical Zone (CZ) and the impact of microorganisms on carbon cycling (Akob and Küsel 2011). The CZ is the heterogeneous environment where complex interactions between rock, soil, water, air, and living organisms regulate.. read more