Science is interdisciplinary. As such, most of my research projects are highly collaborative, and tap into numerous subdisciplines of biology or require extensive collaboration with physicists or mechanical & electrical engineers.
One of my major research interests involves the interactions between microbes (i.e. bacteria or fungi) and plants. When you look at all of land plant evolution across ~500 million years, one quickly sees overall trends of plant evolution and developmental biology (evo-devo). Mosses are avascular and dominated by gametophyte stages. Ferns are vascular, seedless, and have expanded sporophyte stages. Lastly, seed plants are also vascular, but seeded and even more sporophyte-dominant than ferns. Of these three plant groups, the fern is quite unique in that it is the only plant that behaves like a moss as a fern gametophyte and resembles angiosperms in some ways as a fern sporophyte. Teaming up with other biologists and engineers here at Gannon, one of my goals is to characterize the genes necessary for the development of fern gametophyte rhizoids and sporophyte roots. For root development, we are testing 3D-printed and laser-cut acrylic plant growth chambers with the intention of time-lapse imaging. Preliminary data indicate that certain microbial species are capable of accelerating rhizoid and root development in ferns via an unknown molecular mechanism. Our goal is to nail that mechanism down.
One way to do that is to employ a transcriptomics approach. A transcriptome is the collection of all mRNA transcripts in a cell at any given time. By cryo-fracturing our ferns at either different developmental stages of their lifecycle or after exposure to different microbial species during development, we can harvest and extract a snapshot of the genes that are currently transcribed. This involves some bench-top labor (wetwork), and some computational biology / bioinformatics (drywork) to make sense of the patterns of differential gene expression (DGE) across the various treatment groups. Likewise, we intend to also examine effects of DGE in the microbes participating in the commensalistic behavior alongside their eukaryotic counterparts. To this end, we rely heavily on Illumina RNAseq methodology and data analysis via R and Python. Interested students do not need any programming expertise—we will guide you with resources to help you become familiar with the field.
MICROBIAL UBIQUITY AERIAL SURVEILLANCE
We are also seeking to characterize novel microbes that have an impact on plant development. As part of a larger surveillance project, we are employing a multi-disciplinary approach involving biologists, physicists, and engineers in order to construct an aerial drone platform capable of hauling payload canisters to sample microbial ubiquity at various altitudes. Our payload employs specialized microbial nutrient media to detect for the growth of specific types of micro-organisms, including endospore-forming Clostridium spp., coliforms of synapsid and diapsid guts, photosynthetic cyanobacteria, and mycolic acid forming Mycobacterium spp. Complementing what can be cultured, we also plan on employing meta-genomics to obtain a microbial surveillance snapshot at different altitudes. Some of the organisms that we characterize may be novel, and may also influence our fern growth assays.
Undergraduate students that do biological research with me will thus inevitably get exposure to a little bit of everything: evolution, developmental biology, botany, microbiology, molecular and cell biology, meta-genomics, transcriptomics, bioinformatics, and a small dash of ecology. You do not need to be an expert in any or all of these to join my research group; I will help show you the way.
Thanks for reading! If you are interested in my research, please feel free to contact me via email (email@example.com).
“We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
-T.S. Eliot, excerpt from Four Quartets