What got you interested in plants and plant science?
In my undergraduate biology and biochemistry coursework, I became interested in the mechanisms that organisms use to respond to environmental stressors, and I thought that photosynthetic organisms were a particularly interesting example of this (since they generally can’t run away from their problems!). This led me to join a lab studying chilling stress in warm-climate plants, where I had a wonderful experience discovering that I enjoyed biology research generally and becoming increasingly interested in photosynthesis and other aspects of plant metabolism.
What is your research about?
My current study system is Cyanidioschyzon merolae, an extremophilic species of single-celled red algae. These interesting little microorganisms were isolated in the sulfur-rich acidic hot springs of a volcanic field, and they grow optimally at pH ~2.5 and temperature ~42 °C. We are interested in C. merolae because it has unique metabolic properties related to its extreme habitat, to the divergence of its order from other red algae lineages relatively quickly after the emergence of the first photosynthetic eukaryote, and to its simple cell and genome structure (for example, C. merolae’s genome has only 27 reported introns among its ~5000 genes!).
What is the potential societal impact of your research?
We are focused on basic directions (understanding a unique and extremophilic system), but C. merolae has attracted interest as an appealing species for production of biofuels and other high-value algal products - one perk of cultivating this species is that it can grow in culture conditions that are not conducive to the growth of culture-contaminating organisms. Understanding the genes and gene products of this extremophilic system may also be useful in engineering other systems for increased stress tolerance.
How has your graduate career been impacted by your campus and educational experiences?
It’s been great to meet so many amazing plant scientists in PLB, MPS and the PRL!