Deciphering the genetic and physiological interactions between protists and their associated bacterial communities
There is a growing appreciation for using protists (single-cell eukaryotes) as bioindicators for monitoring ecosystem health. Several species of Arcellinida testate amoeba are found to be capable of surviving hostile environmental conditions with low pH (<4), and high concentrations of heavy metal. Similarly, T. thermophile has been widely applied as whole-cell biosensors (WCBs) to detect heavy metals pollution in aquatic or soil samples. T. thermophila has five metallothionein (MT) gene isoforms, these genes respond quickly and strongly to heavy metal stress.
My current research focuses on understanding how eukaryotic cells adapt and survive in hostile environments, particularly those that are polluted with toxic heavy metals. In the laboratory I exposed different species of protists to different concentrations of arsenic (AS III) for different time periods, and then I generate and compare transcriptomic data from treated as well as the control species. This approach allows me to characterize the changes in gene expressions in response to different arsenic concentrations at different time periods; to identify genes that play roles in AS III metabolism, transportation and detoxification as well as to monitor the impact of arsenic concentration on growth rate.
I am also interested to expand my knowledge in areas of marine protist genetics and evolutions, and currently I am working on developing a stable transfection protocol for Bodo saltans, a free living close relative to Trypanosomes. Certain species of marine protozoa are seemingly ubiquitous in the ocean, yet we know little about them due to the lack of genetically tractable model representatives. Genetic manipulation of marine protist will allow us to systematically decipher the gene–gene and gene–environment interactions, and to understand processes underlying the roles of certain protists in biogeochemical cycling and the evolution and ecology of the microbial Eukarya. I am working on this project at Prof. Peter Girguis lab (Harvard) and in collaboration with Dr. Edgcomb (WHOI).
Cambridge, MA 02138