Ph.D. University of Maryland, 1999
- Assistant Professor of Marine Microbiology
Hydrocarbon degradation in the environment, hydrocarbon uptake in bacteria
Petroleum byproducts have become ubiquitous pollutants due to a range of human activities including combustion of fossil fuels, petroleum refinery, industrial runoff, and oil spills. My research objective is to study the biodegradation of these toxic pollutants in anoxic estuarine and freshwater sediments. Molecular techniques such as DNA fingerprinting, fluorescent in situ hybridization, and microautoradiography are used to examine the microbial community structure of contaminated versus clean sites, and to determine which are the active members responsible for degradation of the pollutant. Furthermore, I am developing molecular diagnostic tools to help predict if the organisms present at a contaminated site can facilitate bioremediation of these persistent pollutants.
Aerobic bacteria use oxygen as a reactant to degrade petroleum-based pollutants, and this process is relatively well understood. In contrast, anaerobic organisms have evolved alternative pathways of degradation that do not depend on oxygen, and these processes remain poorly understood. As a result, much remains to be discovered about the anaerobic organisms and their mechanisms (genetic or biochemical) used to degrade these complex substrates. My interest is to identify the actively degrading members within enriched consortia and the genes required for degradation. I am also interested in examining the mechanisms (e.g. biosurfactants, emulsifiers, and inclusion bodies) that both aerobic and anaerobic bacteria utilize to take-up and store these hydrophobic substrates.