I am an evolutionary geneticist captivated by understanding how symbioses are established, maintained, and evolve over time. My research offers insight into how fungi function in symbioses with humans, plants, and bacteria, and how genomes evolve as a consequence of symbioses.
I am currently working to understand population diversity of Coccidioides in collaboration with Drs. Anita Sil, John Taylor and Rachel Brem at UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco. Im using Genome Wide Association Studies (GWAS) and comparative genomics to understand this disease, also known as Valley Fever. Infections from this deadly human fungal pathogen are rising at troubling rates in the South Western United States, including California, and novel vaccine targets are badly needed.
Before my postdoc, I was studying symbiotic evolution using plant-associated bacteria and fungi. This work led to my PhD with Dr. Rytas Vilgalys (Genetics & Genomics, Duke University). By studying interactions between soil fungi and their bacterial endosymbionts (pictured below) and free living soil bacteria, I identified functional mechanisms and genomic repercussions of inter-kingdom symbioses. To better understand these symbioses and others I use microfluidics, microscopy, computational biology, and systematics to integrate a combination of genomic, transcriptomic, proteomic, metabolomic, and volatomic data.
Before my time at Duke I was working to document plant associated ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungal diversity in the central Guiana Shield (Guyana) region of northeastern South America. During this project that led to my masters degree (Biology, Humboldt State University, with Dr. Terry Henkel) I collected and described many species in the genus Clavulina (Basidiomycota, Cantharellales). This work is part of on-going research aimed at documenting and describing tropical plant fungal interactions.
In addition to research I am strongly committed to teaching and leadership. I taught my own Mycology (Biology 540) course at Duke University, and have helped teach several college level Biology courses and field based workshops. I also helped establish and am a past chair of the Mycological Society of America Student Section.
My research has been supported by The National Science Foundation, The Department of Energy, NASA, and various local Mycological Societies.