Move to Stanford University!

Stanford life

Boston to the Bay Area! This October I began a new academic life at Stanford University where I am a NSF postdoctoral fellow working on questions regarding the microbiology underpinning large trace gas fluxes between the atmosphere and biosphere. I am working under the guidance of Professor Paula Welander who recently joined the Environmental Earth System Science faculty. I am looking forward to learning from her expertise and from the rest of our group. With this new move, I also began a new social life, which (after many years in tech schools) included my first-ever college football game and tailgating. Should be a great couple of years.

Manuscript linking consumption of atmospheric H2 to the life cycle of soil-dwelling actinobacteria

The presence (left) or absence (right) of aerial hyphae in Streptomyces may influence their atmospheric H<sub>2</sub> consumption
The presence (left) or absence (right) of aerial hyphae in Streptomyces may be linked to atmospheric H2 consumption

Microbe-mediated soil uptake is the largest and most uncertain variable in the budget of atmospheric hydrogen (H2). In Meredith et al. (2014) in Environmental Microbiology Reports, we probe the advantage of atmospheric H2 consumption to microbes and relationship between environmental conditions, physiology of soil microbes, and H2First, we were interested in whether environmental isolates and culture collection strains with the genetic potential for atmospheric H2 uptake (a specific NiFe-hydrogenase gene) actually exhibit atmospheric H2 uptake. To expand the library of atmospheric H2-oxidizing bacteria, we quantify H2 uptake rates by novel Streptomyces soil isolates that contain the hhyL and by three previously isolated and sequenced strains of actinobacteria whose hhyL sequences span the known hhyL diversity. Second, we investigated how H2 uptake varies over organismal life cycle in one sporulating and one non-sporulating microorganism, Streptomyces sp. HFI8 and Rhodococcus equi, respectively. Our observations suggest that conditions favoring H2 uptake by actinobacteria are associated with energy and nutrient limitation. Thus, H2 may be an important energy source for soil microorganisms inhabiting systems in which nutrients are frequently limited.

Much of this work was done with the help of Deepa Rao, an undergraduate researcher at MIT at the time who wrote an award-winning senior thesis on the topic and presented results in a number of venues, including at AGU 2012.


AGU 2013 Session: Linking Microbial Communities and Biogeochemistry to Ecosystem Processes and Environmental Change

I am co-organizing a session at this year’s annual AGU meeting in San Francisco focusing on the microbial influence on atmospheric chemistry and ecosystem processes. We are bringing together a group with diverse disciplinary backgrounds and scientific approaches to share approaches and ideas. We hope to see you there on Friday!

Sessions: B51D (poster), B53D (oral), B54B (oral)

-search the sessions-


Section/Focus Group:



Laura Meredith, MIT,

Catherine Febria, University of Maryland,

Jake Hosen, University of Maryland,

Ed Hall,


Microbial communities are mediators of all biogeochemical cycles, controlling ecosystem responses to human-induced change. Advances in the molecular characterization of carbon and microbial communities have produced novel datasets that capture large spatiotemporal dynamics. Researchers are now able to address questions about the interactivities of nutrient flux from the microbial community to ecosystem scale. This session will highlight ressearch on the functional role of microbial communities in ecosystem-level biogeochemistry. We encourage contributions that investigate C, N, P, small-scale experiments and syntheses that can inform understanding of ecosystem-level responses to environmental change.

Index Terms:

[0439] BIOGEOSCIENCES / Ecosystems, structure and dynamics
[0470] BIOGEOSCIENCES / Nutrients and nutrient cycling
[0465] BIOGEOSCIENCES / Microbiology: ecology, physiology and genomics
[0428] BIOGEOSCIENCES / Carbon cycling

Deepa attends AGU and blogs about her experience

Connecting H2 consumption to life cycles of soil microbes
Deepa’s AGU Poster “Connecting H2 consumption to life cycles of soil microbes”

The EAPS department website shares Deepa’s blog about her first the AGU experience. She writes, “Science, nature, life, emergence, and the universe have always inspired my art. And it is the unnecessary beauty of science that makes it deeply mysterious and so inviting to my mind… AGU was an incredible week of reconnecting with friends, advisors, professors, fellow researchers. It was also unexpectedly a way for me to connect a path to a foreseeable future where my two passions can be combined, perhaps even muddled, into an exciting career.”

Thesis Defense!

I defended my thesis entitled “Field Measurement of the Fate of Atmospheric H2 in a Forest Environment: from Canopy to Soil”.

I was honored to receive the 2012 Carl-Gustaf Rossby Prize for my thesis  (link to .pdf).

It was an incredible feeling to defend. I really enjoyed preparing and giving my thesis defense presentation. It’s not often that one gets to present the culmination of six years of hard work and personal development to colleagues, family, and friends. I am grateful for mentorship from my advisor Ron Prinn, my thesis committee (Steve Wofsy – Harvard, Bill Munger – Harvard, Tanja Bosak – MIT, Colleen Hansel – WHOI, Shuhei Ono – MIT), and many others along the way!

ISME conference on “the power of the small”

Last week I attended ISME 14 (International Symposium on Microbial Ecology) in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was a delight to see the city – its juxtaposed giant modern, cool, sterile buildings surrounding the historic old city. More of a delight was unexpectedly running into friends from the MBL Microbial Diversity summer school (2010) and realizing they are now my colleagues.

The conference itself was quite good. I appreciated the range of content from very big picture and abstract to focused experimental projects. One message I took away from the community was a sort of -omics backlash, or perhaps whiplash, to the idea that generating more and more -omics data is the sole future for microbial ecology. It seems that presenters coming from both the -omics and experimental side were acknowledging the importance of both tools, and especially of using them together. Those seem to be a lot of tools for any one scientist to master, so I am encouraged that the tone was of collaborative holistic approaches for tackling scientific questions.

Wind turbines and modern architecture outside of Copenhagen

I really enjoyed a somewhat unique session. It was a discussion entitled “Frontiers in microbial ecosystem science: Energizing the research agenda” sponsored at this and other conferences by the US National Science Foundation. All sorts of issues were raised in a discussion of “what needs to be done” – what are the important topics and how should we advance microbial ecology. I was struck by how strong the arguments were that microbial ecology is important for understanding, and possibly mitigating, climate change. This is my main interest, but I often find the microbial ecology literature and research interests so focused on minute points (I think my own project included), that it is difficult to see the link between the microbial and global scales. At this session I learned that it is not only because it is difficult to do, but also because the funding agencies seem to push scientists to write grants in one or the other. It is difficult to be interdisciplinary (falling under more than one NSF department). It has been a (fun) challenge for me to try to get a foot in both atmospheric and microbial ecology, and it was encouraging to hear from the community that the intersection of the two is valued.

Tuborg beer and the Royal Copenhagen porcelain company

Deepa receives Goetze Prize for Undergraduate Research

At the 2012 EAPS Student Awards Ceremony Deepa Rao received the Christopher Goetze Prize for Undergraduate Research for her thesis entitled : “Exploring the Microbe-mediated Soil H2 sink: A lab-based study of the physiology and related H2 consumption of isolates from the Harvard Forest LTER.” The award recognizes ” innovative experimental design, care in data collection, and sensitive application of results to research problems.”

It has been a pleasure to supervise Deepa’s thesis research and her results will contribute to our research efforts to understand the mechanisms driving the soil sink for atmospheric H2. Professor Ron Prinn acts as the faculty advisor for both Deepa and I.

Deepa Rao accepting the award from her academic advisor Sam Bowring
Deepa Rao accepting the award from her academic advisor Sam Bowring

Spotlight on H2 fluxes at Harvard Forest

PAOC Spotlight: Back to the forest Interview

Micro-organisms have produced dramatic shifts in the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere and continue to be important drivers of ocean- and land-atmosphere exchanges of gases that have a strong influence on atmospheric composition and climate. An interesting example is the microbial influence on atmospheric molecular hydrogen (H2), which dominates the fate of this gas in the atmosphere. H2 is emitted to the atmosphere by about half natural and half anthropogenic, or human-induced, processes but it is predominantly removed from the atmosphere by microorganisms in the soil, which makes this process the most important, yet least understood, player in the atmospheric H2 budget.

The MIT Program in Oceans, Atmospheres, and Climate interviewed me on the current state of my work with a custom instrument deployed at the Harvard Forest Long Term Ecological Research site in central Massachusetts. Laura is in the Climate Physics and Chemistry Program. Her advisor is Ron Prinn.

I survived the AGU 2011 Fall meeting

I just returned to Boston after the six weeks of travelling. My two weeks in California, filled with conferences and colleagues, was quite different from the intensive and somewhat isolated period spent in India.

Presenting my poster at AGU – one of 12,000+ posters

First stop was San Diego, where I attended the 44th Meeting of Advanced Global  Atmospheric Gases Experiment (AGAGE) Scientists and Cooperating Networks at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla. Anita Ganesan’s instrument in Darjeeling may pave the way for the first AGAGE site in India, so the crowd was eager to hear her describe our success in deploying her instrument. Her dedicated and diligent work is paying off as she is collecting some of the first high precision direct greenhouse gas measurements in India.

I gave a talk at the AGAGE meeting on my recent work on the flux of H2, CO2 and COS between the soil and atmosphere at Harvard Forest. I focus on the persistence of soil-atmosphere exchange of trace gases across snowpack, which insulates the soil microbial community from freezing air temperatures while allowing trace gases  to diffuse through the porous snow matrix. I’m interested in how strongly the biogeochemical cycling continues throughout the winter and in comparing the behavior of the different cycles in the low temperature ‘incubator’ beneath the snow. Continue reading “I survived the AGU 2011 Fall meeting”

Helping deploy Anita’s instrument to Darjeeling, India

Update: The first publication from Dr. Anita Ganesan’s work in Darjeeling has been published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (view document online).

I’m in my second week in India, where I am helping fellow Prinn-group graduate student Anita Ganesan deploy her gas chromatograph to Darjeeling, a town high on a ridge in West Bengal in the foothills of the Himalayas (Anita has a blog now!). It’s quite a trek to get to the Bose Institute where her instrument will be housed. We spent a few days adjusting to the change in time and culture in the hectic city of Kolkata. A haze hung over the city, making the day seem darker and the nights lighter, and there was a constant smell of burning. It was not unpleasant, but the concerns about the impact of particulate levels on air quality and health that we are taught in the classroom were made real. Two million people in this city and its surroundings breathe this local atmosphere daily, until it is exported to the globe. Continue reading “Helping deploy Anita’s instrument to Darjeeling, India”