My laboratory studies extremely thermophilic microbes that live in high temperature environments like hot springs, volcanically-heated muds, deep oil reserves, and deep sea vents. We are interested in what these organisms can teach us about early microbial life on Earth.
One common microbial group in these environments is called the Thermotogales. This group of bacteria is distinguished by having an unusual outer wall called the toga that is composed of protein subunits. The toga appears loosely attached to the cell and sometimes extends beyond the limits of the cell's cytoplasm, thus it was called a "toga." The organisms largely live on sugars, some of them complex polysaccharides.
It has become apparent that microbes acquire new characteristics not just through random mutations of their genes, but also by inheriting genes from other, sometimes distantly related, microbes. Inheritance of characteristics from ancestors is called vertical inheritance while acquisition of genes from other lineages is termed horizontal or lateral gene transfer. In 1999 the genome of one Thermotogales species, Thermotoga maritima , was sequenced and it was found to contain an unusually high number of genes that appeared to have come from the Archaea. Thus it became the poster child for studies of horizontal gene transfer.
Several of the studies in my laboratory involve seeking answers to questions about the horizontal gene transfer process. In particular, we are interested in what impact horizontal acquisition of genes has had on the functions of those genes' products and how they can be utilized when transferred to a distantly related host.
For a complete description of projects currently underway in my lab, click on the My research link.
For an up-to-date list of my accessible publications in the PubMed database, click here.
If you want to contact me, write a letter or send an email to:
Department of Molecular and Cell Biology
University of Connecticut
Unit-3125, 91 North Eagleville Rd.
Storrs, CT 06269-32125