Tell us about your work/research. What kinds of things do you do?
I am a Ph.D. graduate student in the marine biology program at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. I study marine bacteria and the chemicals that they produce. A lot of my research focuses on a group of bacteria called Actinobacteria that are especially talented at producing a wide variety of natural products— chemical compounds that organisms produce for defense, nutrient acquisition, and/or communication. These natural products are relevant to human health as they can have potent antibiotic, antiviral, anticancer, and other drug applications. I research why, when, and how marine sediment bacteria produce these natural products by using bioinformatic genomic sequencing techniques coupled with laboratory-based molecular and chemical techniques. By sequencing the genomes of bacteria of interest, I can identify regions of the genomes that are responsible for producing exciting natural products. I’m especially interested in the evolution of the pathways responsible for producing natural products and how it results in an incredible amount of chemical diversity! We can apply what we learn from isolates of bacteria in the lab to more complex samples: by investigating the genomic (the DNA & RNA) and metabolomic (the natural product chemistry) fingerprint of ocean microbiome samples, we can discover new, diverse drugs from the ocean and their microbial producers.
What sparked your initial interest in your career?
I’ve always loved exploring the outdoors and being in or near the water. As a child, I was mesmerized by all of the creatures at the National Aquarium in Baltimore and following my interests in science and math lead me to pursue a degree in Biology at Kenyon College in Ohio. There I was first introduced to microbiology conducting research with Dr. Joan Slonczewski looking at how E. coli survives in challenging environments. I fell in love with scientific research and continuing my research career at Scripps combining microbiology, my interest in the ocean, and new techniques in exploring the evolution, genomics, and chemistry of marine bacteria was a perfect fit for my interests.
Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?
My family has always been supportive of my curiosity and my passion for working with wonderfully weird microbes. I’ve also been incredibly lucky to have the support & the opportunity to learn from my incredible undergraduate professors at Kenyon College, talented research colleagues throughout the years, friends in and out of science, past and present mentors and advisors— all of these individuals are the team of support that make pursuing a Ph.D. in marine microbiology possible.
What element of your work/study do you think is the most fascinating?
What fascinates me the most is the sheer number of billions of diverse microbes that live in the ocean— especially all of the undiscovered bacteria living on and beneath the ocean floor in layers and layers of sediment. Each of these microbes holds their own secrets in their genomes of how they survive, compete, and interact in the diverse microbiome communities that they’re a part of. The modern advancements in sequencing technology are just now allowing us to look closer at who compose these ocean microbiome communities, their functions, and their chemistry.
What other jobs led you to your current career?
I’d attribute learning the important skills of flexibility and leadership from working multiple years as a camp counselor & lifeguard at a resident Girl Scout summer camp. Science-related jobs that helped me sharpen my interests in specific areas of research have included: microbiology researcher in Dr. Joan Slonczewski’s laboratory at Kenyon College; research expeditions in the tropical wet & dry rainforests, the Great Barrier Reef, and laboratory studies of frog chytrid fungus in Queensland, Australia; and an NSF REU at the Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience at the University of Florida.
What are your degrees and certifications?
Bachelor of Arts in Biology — Kenyon College 2016
Masters of Science in Marine Biology — University of California, San Diego 2018
Scuba PADI Open Water Diver
What are your hobbies?
I love being outdoors hiking, camping, snorkeling, and exploring tide pools. I especially enjoy taking pictures of the creatures & plants that I find in nature and posting them to iNaturalist for community identification.
What advice would you give someone who wants to have a career like yours?
One of the biggest parts of my job as a microbiologist/scientist is troubleshooting and creative problem-solving. I’m always learning new things, and so I think for a career in microbiology, marine biology, and science it’s important to be unafraid of saying “I don’t know” and jumping into learning new types of analyses, reading and listening widely in different fields of science for inspiration and connecting ideas. I think that trying all sorts of research is important to find what you like and don’t like in scientific research, and along the way, learning new techniques and approaches that will help you ask the next question— being passionately curious and always ready to look for the unexpected is what is needed every day as a marine microbiologist.
How did you get involved with the Ocean Exploration Trust?
I’m a graduate student in Dr. Paul Jensen’s lab at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When he and Dr. Lisa Levin received a grant from the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration, it led to an opportunity for me to join on this OET research expedition to help collect samples! This is the first time our lab has been involved in an OET expedition, so I’m excited about what we might find analyzing these unique benthic community ocean microbiome samples for their biopharmaceutical potential.