Royal Society Research Fellow
My research centres on molecular mechanisms which enable microorganisms to adapt to their environment. My particular focus is on terrestrial ammonia oxidation, a critical step in the global nitrogen cycle and a pre-requisite for all life on Earth.
Oxidation of ammonia to nitrite is carried out by distinct groups of ammonia oxidising archaea and bacteria. Diversity, abundance and activity of ammonia oxidising microbial communities are shaped by environmental factors, including pH and ammonium, but the reason underpinning this selection is not understood. My goal is to address this gap by linking the physiology and biochemistry of ammonia oxidising microorganisms in culture to their ecological niches in soil.
I am especially interested in the physiology of ammonia oxidising archaea. These archaea are among the most numerous living organisms on the planet, but poorly understood compared to bacterial ammonia oxidisers. Prior to my fellowship, I discovered representatives of two novel genera of ammonia oxidising archaea and isolated them in pure culture. These archaea, Nitrosotalea devanaterra, Nitrosotalea sinensis and Nitrosocosmicus franklandus, are now the model organisms in my laboratory.