- Professor of Bacteriology, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, McMahon Lab, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Collaborated with JGI since 2005
We have worked together on projects related to sewage treatment and freshwater lakes. Activated sludge wastewater treatment processes are used throughout the world to purify trillions of gallons of sewage annually. Many treatment plants employ specialized bacteria to remove the nutrient phosphorus, in an effort to protect lakes and rivers from eutrophication, a deterioration of water quality characterized by excessive algae blooms. Accumulibacter play a vital role in wastewater management, accumulating massive amounts of phosphorus inside their cells. This research resulted in a publication in the journal Nature Biotechnology.
Our work on freshwater lakes has focused on naturally occurring bacteria that cycle carbon and nutrients, providing critical ecosystem services related to water quality. We are studying the ecology and evolution of these bacteria in an effort to eventually predict how they will behave under changing climate and land use conditions.
The scale of wastewater treatment in the US is daunting–on the scale of tens of billions gallons are treated daily. When these facilities fail, it can result in serious pollution of lakes, rivers, and estuaries, with untreated phosphorous, carbon, and nitrogen–the detritus of human activities–necessitating costly and environmentally-taxing remedies and exposing the public to potential disease hazards. Even a marginal improvement in the process would translate into huge savings and spell relief for environmental engineers. Naturally occurring bacteria in freshwater lakes play a critical role in carbon and nutrient cycles, with direct impacts on water quality. A fundamental understanding of how they control these cycles is required in order to effectively manage our waterways for human use and environmental health.
Most of the core work conducted in our lab would be impossible without JGI. We have several federally funded projects that depend entirely on sequence data generated at JGI and the amazing support of JGI scientists. We work closely with postdocs and scientists to develop new analysis tools and to interpret our results. Several of my students have visited JGI for short internships and I am fortunate to be able to visit and meet regularly with their expert staff. IMG/M is a phenomenal tool that underpins much of what we do, but we also conduct our own analyses using our own computational resources with assistance from JGI staff. Our sequencing projects regularly push the boundaries of JGI’s informatics capacities and we are delighted to help with development of new workflows that can ingest the ever-increasing sizes of our datasets.