Brandon Paul Kieft
Microbial communities are harnessed in a variety of anthropogenic processes, including waste-to-energy conversion, mining sustainability, and biomanufacturing. Despite their widespread use, characteristics of complex microbial communities, including which populations are active and the functions they perform in concert with one another, are poorly understood from a predictive standpoint. In other words, we can generally identify who is there and the emergent (end-product) properties of the system, but the activities and roles of individual microbial populations is more difficult to measure. Identifying members of commercially or ecologically valuable microbial communities is important because it may allow us to isolate and harness the metabolism of cells as a means to make such processes more efficient or sustainable. As a computational microbiologist, I use large datasets of DNA, RNA, and protein sequences to understand how microbes work synergistically (and antagonistically) while carrying out industrial-scale biomass conversions such as renewable natural gas production from wastewater, breakdown of agricultural wastes to fertilizers and energy, and heavy metal reduction in mine tailings.