Dr. Brown’s Lab at Texas Tech University focuses on the evolution, ecology, and function of host-associated microbes — especially those involved in beneficial interactions — using a range of “omics” approaches, including shotgun metagenomics, metatranscriptomics, proteomics, etc. Systems include symbiotic bacteria and fungi living on or in insects, nematodes, plants, and other hosts. In 2021, Dr. Brown received a joint National Science Foundation CAREER/ U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to study how bacteria affect nematodes.
Microbes are ubiquitous, occurring in every habitat on earth. Stable, mutually beneficial interactions between organisms have evolved in all major groups across the tree of life. In many independent events, these microbe-host interactions have evolved to serve biochemically fundamental processes (e.g. organelles such as mitochondria, chloroplasts, or obligate intracellular endosymbionts such as bacteria within insect bacteriomes, and helpful microbes that make up the human microbiome). Despite the importance of these host-associated microbes, we still know little about them and many are yet to be discovered.
Our Burning Questions
Origins? How do microbial interdependencies and symbioses originate? What can we infer from phylogenomics? How can we model the evolution of cooperation? How important is horizontal gene transfer in the origin of symbiosis?
Maintenance? How are microbial partnerships maintained in the face of evolutionary and ecological forces? What regulatory role do hosts/microbes have? How can we model stable maintenance of microbial cooperation?
Disruption? How do disruptions in host-microbe partnerships lead to species invasions, disease outbreaks, changes in phenotype, or evolutionary trajectories of organisms and ecosystems?
Complexity? Adding microbial interactions adds ecological or metabolic complexity. What are the specific costs (risks) of complexity and how do hosts and microbes overcome this cost?
Impact? Broadly, what is the energetic impact of microbial interaction on biomass productivity, ecosystem stability, and the chemistry of life? What is the role microbial partnership in the evolution of adaptive innovation?
We are looking for new people to join our team.