[with Karna Gowda & Madhav Mani]  -- Support from McDonnell Foundation.

We are using denitrification as a model process to connect microbial community structure to function.  Our goal is to predict microbial community metabolic function from the genomes of community members.

Denitrification is the process by which bacteria use oxidized nitrogen compounds as electron acceptors to respire in the absence of oxygen.  Bacterial collectives transform oxidized nitrate to dinitrogen gas through a cascade of reduction reactions which can occur within a single-cell or be distributed across members of the community. Thanks to decades of work by bacterial geneticists and biochemists, the genetic and biochemical basis of denitrification is well understood. The task remaining is to relate genes and genomes to measurements of denitrification dynamics. Denitrification is a critical process in the global nitrogen cycle and central to soil health and wastewater treatment

Dr. Karna Gowda has spearheaded an effort to ask whether the genomes of denitrifiers can predict the denitrification rates of a community.  He has isolated hundreds of bacterial strains from the prairies and cornfields of Illinois and developed high-throughput assays of denitrification rates to answer this question.