Position: Research Scientist at the DOE JGI
Research focus: “Viral EcoGenomics” i.e. understanding the impact of viruses on environmental microbiomes
What do you love about viruses?
I love the diversity of the viral world, and the many solutions that evolved in the virosphere in response to all the challenges and hurdles viruses are facing to replicate.
What is the coolest thing about your research?
I would argue the coolest thing right now about our research is that we have known (or at least suspected) for a while that viruses of microbes are important for microbiome processes (ecological, evolutionary, and metabolic), and it feels like we are finally starting to get the right tools to characterize these viruses and their impacts.
What was your most surprising scientific finding?
When we identified what looked like a “filamentous phage” (inovirus) in some archaeal genomes. I am still puzzled by these filamentous archaeoviruses and how they came to be, especially whether they originated from a relatively recent “host switch” from a bacterial host to an archaeal host (and if so, how did they manage that !)
Which scientific topic (outside of your field of research) do you think should have more scientific attention?
Phage-like microbial (mobile) elements. There is a seemingly large collection of genomic elements in bacterial and archaeal genomes that appears to be “repurposed phages/viruses”, such as Gene Transfer Agents (GTA), tailocins, type VI secretion systems, or phage-like-protein-translocation structures (PLTSs). They perform important functions for these microbes, yet so far it seems like they are only studied for specific hosts and separately from each other.
If you were completely free to choose a scientific topic to work on, which would it be?
Understanding how microbiomes (and their viruses) can be used for terraforming other planets.