Microbial ecology of the interactions of microbes with toxic metals
Research in my laboratory is focused on the microbial ecology of the interactions of microbes with toxic metals. Specifically, we are looking at microbial transformations of metals and how they affect metal toxicity and accumulation patterns in the environment and at the genetics and physiology of metal resistance and transformations in bacteria. This research supports efforts in bioremidiation of metal contaminated environments. Our research relies heavily on the application of molecular tools, such as cloning, gene probing, mRNA transcript analysis, sequencing. PCR amplification, and phylogenetic analyses in microbial ecology.
Several on-going research projects are focused on the role of microbes in the formation and accumulation of methylmercury in aquatic environments. Methylmercury is the most toxic form of mercury, which is accumulated and biomagnified in fish and shellfish, posing a risk to predators (including humans) that rely on the aquatic food chain for sustenance. Our studies are focused on environments with elevated mercury concentrations as a result of man activities or geothermal enrichments. Current projects are conducted in the Meadowlands, NJ, the Adirondacks, NY, and in deep-sea hydrothermal vents.
A third project examines the evolutionary pathways of metal homeostasis among microorganisms. In particular, we are interested in the role of horizontal gene transfer in the evolution of metal resistance in microbial communities that inhabit metal and radionuclei impacted subsurface (below the root zone) soils. Such genetic spread might facilitate microbial survival and activities in metal contaminated environments.