Biographical summary I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of South Florida. Thanks to the hard work of an enthusiastic team of collaborators, graduate students, undergraduate researchers and students enrolled in my classes who are brought into classroom undergraduate research activities, we are uncovering many surprises about the evolution and physiology of autotrophic microorganisms. 1. What is your current research addressing and what impact may this research have on the wider field? My current research addresses carbon dioxide and bicarbonate uptake by autotrophic microorganisms. In our studies of deep-sea sulphur-oxidizing chemolithoautotrophs, we have recently identified some novel transporters for these compounds, and homologs of these transporters are widespread among members of domain Bacteria (Mangiapia et al.2017). These homologs are present in autotrophic and heterotrophic organisms, suggesting that active transport of carbon dioxide and/or bicarbonate is quite common, which makes sense since these compounds are not only the carbon sources for autotrophic organisms, but necessary for biosynthesis of many cellular building blocks, including amino acids, nucleobases, and fatty acids. In addition to enhancing our understanding of bicarbonate and carbon dioxide metabolism, studying these transporters could facilitate our attempts to engineer organisms to catalyse reactions of industrial relevance in a carbon-neutral manner. If we front-end their biochemistries with transporters, these organisms will be less sensitive to fluctuations in carbon dioxide and bicarbonate availability. 2. What made you decide on a career in Microbiology? When I was 6 years old, two important things happened: (i) my big sister gave me her Sears microscope and I fell in love with ciliates, rotifers, and filamentous algae from pond water, and (ii) I watched firefighters battle a blaze that consumed a house (no-one was hurt). I decided that I wanted to be either a microbiologist or a firefighter. Years later I made my peace with the fact that I am too small to smash through closed doors or carry grown men on my back. Plus, pond water is cool. At some point, you must work with what you have. Humour aside, I was lucky to have some big advantages: encouraging parents and big sisters, access to a quality public education (K-12, undergraduate and graduate) and support from teaching and research assistantships. Without those things, a career in Microbiology would have been out of reach. 3. Who or what had the most positive influence on your career? Who is your microbiology hero/heroine (living or dead) and why? My microbiology heroes include my collaborators and mentors. We are lucky that there are so many in our field who are graced with grit, wit and perspective. Sabine Heinhorst and Gordon Cannon, who worked on their research as a team, are particularly heroic, in my opinion. They have done amazingly elegant, tricky work to characterise carboxysomes (microcompartments present in many autotrophic bacteria). This work has some amazing repercussions for our understanding of carbon fixation, and bacterial cell architecture e.g. (Dou et al.2008; Heinhorst et al.2006; Menon et al.2008). I was able to observe their mentorship of a series of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows and was struck by how they hit the perfect balance between highest, exacting standards and compassion. While at the University of Southern Mississippi, they have also both done a substantial amount of outreach to those who lack some or all of the advantages I mentioned above, to make it possible for more of us to pursue a career in Microbiology. They have recently retired from research, much to my chagrin. I am so grateful to them for all they have done, and continue to do. View largeDownload slide View largeDownload slide 4. What do you consider to be the most important skills for a microbiologist? The most important skill I have nurtured as a microbiologist is not to take nature personally. This is quite helpful in the laboratory when experiments do not work, as is often the case when we are asking the really interesting questions. When my experiments have not worked, this has often meant that whatever aspect of nature I was studying turned out to be far more interesting than I originally supposed. Not taking nature personally is also quite helpful when going on a hike, or progressing through middle age. 5. What advice would you offer to early career researchers in microbiology to help further their career? The advice I would offer to early career researchers in microbiology is that one of the more satisfying ways to further one's career is to bring others along for the ride. I am lucky to have a position with comparable emphases on research and teaching. Accordingly, I have incorporated undergraduate research experiences into classroom activities, which expands access to research experience to students from under-represented groups, and provides them with opportunities for co-authorship on articles (Mangiapia et al.2017; Quasem et al.2017). ‘Bringing others along for the ride’ also includes cultivating respectful and friendly relationships with collaborators. I am also very grateful for the company and wisdom of my peers as we work together to understand nature. The best advice I can give for maintaining work–life balance is….you really need to do this by whatever means possible, whether through involvement in your community, family or perhaps an off-beat hobby or two (see below). When my w–l balance is off, and I am putting in too many hours on the job, I tend to make poor research decisions because the first thing to go is ‘the big picture.’ To try to mitigate this, I maintain w–l balance by enjoying hobbies with deadlines: I compete in solo bagpipe competitions, as well as triathlons, not because I have delusions of grandeur on either front, but because having competitions on the calendar makes it more likely that I will enjoy playing my pipes or swimming/biking more habitually than I would in the absence of such deadlines. Plus, it is fun to cheer on the other competitors (I have found some nice friends that way; see ‘bringing others along for the ride,’ above). 6. What would you say is the greatest challenge facing microbiologists today? I would say the greatest challenge facing microbiologists today is the same challenge facing scientists in general: public perception of science and scientists. Part of this stems from how science advances are presented in the popular press (often in far more absolute terms than scientists are comfortable with, which is problematic when these advances are contradicted by subsequent studies) and how scientists are often portrayed in the movies (not-so-human). The undergraduate student co-authors that I include on papers because of their contributions to the work are cc’d on all of the emails related to manuscript submission, revision and (hopefully) acceptance because I think it is important to see how (necessarily) brutal the peer review process is. My hope is that this will dispel the notion that science is ‘an opinion.’ Being a microbiologist has taught me to be a better listener: to nature, to my students, to my peers and to myself. Conflict of interest. None declared. REFERENCES Dou Z, Heinhorst S, Williams E et al. CO2 fixation kinetics of Halothiobacillus neapolitanus mutant carboxysomes lacking carbonic anhydrase suggest the shell acts as a diffusional barrier for CO2. J Biol Chem 2008; 283: 10377– 84. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed Heinhorst S, Williams E, Cai F et al. Characterization of the carboxysomal carbonic anhydrase csosca from Halothiobacillus neapolitanus. J of Bacteriol 2006; 188: 8087– 94. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Mangiapia M USF MCB4404L Brown T-RW et al. Proteomic and mutant analysis of the CO2 concentrating mechanism of hydrothermal vent chemolithoautotroph Thiomicrospira crunogena. J Bacteriol 2017; 199: e00871– 00816. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed Menon BB, Dou Z, Heinhorst S et al. Halothiobacillus neapolitanus carboxysomes sequester heterologous and chimeric RubisCO species. PLoS ONE 2008; 3: e3570. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed Quasem I, Achille AN, Caddick BA et al. Peculiar citric acid cycle of hydrothermal vent chemolithoautotroph Hydrogenovibrio crunogenus, and insights into carbon metabolism by obligate autotrophs. FEMS Microbiol Lett 2017; 364: fnx148. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS © FEMS 2018. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: email@example.com
FEMS Microbiology Letters – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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