Marine microbial ecology
Molecular ecology of viruses in the sea. Marine viruses are known to play a key role on regulating microbial biomass and production. However, little is known about the role of marine viruses on microbial population structure, genetic diversification, and genomic evolution. My laboratory uses cyanobacteria/cyanophage and roseobacter/roseophage as two model systems to study the complex interaction between bacteria and their phages. Specific gene markers, including photosynthetic genes psbA and RuBisCO, ITS, viral capsid genes and DNA polymerase gene, have been developed in my lab to monitor the population dynamics of both host and phage populations in the aquatic environments. These studies will deepen our understanding on how viruses interact with microbial hosts in the natural environment.
Picocyanobacteria in the estuarine ecosystem. Picocyanobacteria are important phytoplankton and primary producer in the ocean. Although extensive work has been done for picocyanobacteria (i.e. Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus) in the coastal and oceanic waters, little is known about the composition of picocyanobacterial community in the estuarine ecosystem like Chesapeake Bay. We have isolated and identified unique picocyanobacteria adapted to the Chesapeake estuary. The vast majority of estuarine picocyanbacteria belong to the novel clades of Synechococcus. We also isolated many cyanophages that infect estuarine Synechococcus. Recently, the genomes of two estuarine Synechococcus and eight cyanophages have been sequenced (with the support of Moore Foundation). These genomic sequences will allow us to explore the ecology and evolution of viruses and hosts.
Isolation and selection of microalgae for biofuels and clean coal. Extensive collection of cyanobacteria and microalgae from diverse aquatic environments have been isolated and maintained in my laboratory. We have developed a rapid screening method for testing the physiology or environmental tolerance of microalgae. Many algal strains in our collections have shown a great potential for biofuel development and clean coal application.
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