The main research question of the lab is to link responses of living systems to environmental change at the genetic level. The question is, which genes are most important for how organisms respond to the environment. Our approach is to implement projects that meld the disciplines of genetics and ecology in the discipline of Ecological Genomics.
Nematodes play important roles in various habitats where numerous factors serve to shape their communities. We have focused on the interactions of bacterivorous nematodes, important members of the soil decomposition food web, with bacteria, which serve not only as food sources but also as potential pathogens. We have used both field-based and laboratory approaches to understand the gene functions involved in the formation and maintenance of dynamic soil nematode communities in changing environments.
Recently we have focused our efforts on the study of the interaction between the bacterivorous nematode Caenorhabditis elegans and the ubiquitous and emerging nosocomial bacterial pathogen Stenotrophomonas maltophilia. We aim to elucidate the genes that C. elegans employs to respond to pathogenic bacteria in the environment and are using the interaction with S. maltophilia as a model. The study of this interaction has ecological and medical relevance as S. maltophilia and other members of the Stenotrophomonas genus are found in association with C. elegans and other Rhabditids in the wild and S. maltophilia has been isolated from various clinical sources. We found a local S. maltophilia isolate to be pathogenic to C. elegans and have used genetic and genomic approaches to characterize the interaction. We hope to understand the C. elegans innate immune response to S. maltophilia and perhaps shed light on the complex genetic architectures involved in organismal interactions within a community of organisms.