This research relies on a diversity of techniques to elucidate microbe-microbe and microbe-host interactions, including 16S rRNA based community analysis, genomics, metagenomics, transcriptomics, metatranscriptomics, and proteomics, coupled with more traditional microbiology techniques such as enzymology and culture-based experiments.
The lab is currently working on projects focusing on anaerobic microorganisms. The first is concentrated on energy conservation mechanisms and interspecies electron transfer of model syntrophic cocultures. Syntrophic organisms are anaerobic microorganisms that thrive at the thermodynamic edge of life, relying on metabolic partnerships with methanogenic archaea to derive energy from metabolism.
The researchers are also exploring the interactions between methanogenic Archaea and the humans they inhabit. They are in the process of isolating novel Archaea from the human gastrointestinal tract, so they can determine what types of metabolites they consume and produce that could influence host health. The group is also applying what they have learned about host-microbe interactions and microbial physiology to the microbiota of hibernating mammals. This project has so far been heavily focused on metagenomics and metabolomics analyses. The gut microbiome of hibernating mammals contains many uncultured microorganisms that are also in humans. By studying individual microorganisms from the hibernating ground squirrel cecum, one can begin to understand how a microbiome survives and thrives in the environment of the intestine during the drastic changes that occur during hibernation. These microbes may play a critical role in fat metabolism and vitamin production to benefit the host.