Natural environments harbour a vast diversity of microbial species. Within these communities, microbes interact with each other both directly or indirecly through their shared environment. Such interactions are most often competitive due to competition for shared limiting resources or the production of compounds- e.g. toxins or antibiotics- that inhibit or kill competitors. But sometimes, microbes engage in mutually beneficial interactions (mutualisms) by exchanging resources and/or services.
Mutualisms, however, face many challenges, and for mutualisms to prevail, partners interests need to be aligned and potential conflicts kept in check. I’m interested in understanding how this can be achieved- that is, what factors favour mutualism and keep conflict under control, and how the outcome of species interactions impacts community structure and function.
As a PhD student with Sam Brown (University of Edinburgh) and postdoc with Ben Kerr (University of Washington), I have used mathematical models and computer simulations to investigate the interplay between microbial metabolism and ecology in driving microbial interactions and interdependencies. Now as a postdoc in the Sanchez lab (Yale University), I am conducting experiments with soil microbial communities to understand how microbial species assemble into complex multi-species communities.