My research interests focus on understanding the fate and transport of organic compounds, contaminants in particular, in the environment and the fundamental role played by microbial processes in controlling the cycling of these compounds. Research in my lab uses both traditional and novel techniques to investigate questions relating to topics ranging from organic contaminant sources and biodegradation in the environment to the metabolic processes and bio-signatures associated with microbial metabolism and carbon cycling in extreme environments. The common theme in this research is investigation of the fundamental properties, chemical principles and microbial factors that control the behaviour of organic compounds in the environment. Understanding these controls provides essential information to assess contaminant behaviour, the associated risks, and how to effectively clean up contamination. It also forms the basis of our ability to identify and interpret the biosignatures left by microbial life in the geologic record or on other planets.
Current research projects investigating the behaviour of organic contaminants in the environment include; investigating the sources and microbial metabolism of petroleum contaminants in Hamilton Harbour, Ontario Canada; determining PAH deposition trends to remote regions in northern Ontario; determining the effects of changes in microbial diversity on contaminant degradation and demonstrating petroleum remediation using new approaches in compound specific radiocarbon analysis. These projects will provide greater understanding that will enable more effective remediation of contaminated sites as well as effective policy decisions to prevent future impacts.
One facet of our research includes using carbon isotope analysis of microbial lipids and metagenomic analyses to explore how micro-organisms are affecting the release of high concentrations of arsenic to groundwater in Bangladesh aquifers.
MICROBIAL METABOLISMS IN EXTREME ENVIRONMENTS
Current research into microbial metabolism in extreme environments involves field studies as several sites considered to be good analogue environments for astrobiology research. Astrobiology is the search for life in the universe, but the first requirement for this research is to understand life and its signatures on earth. This research involves field projects in the deep terrestrial subsurface in Ontario, in British Columbia studying the unique microbialite structures in Pavilion Lake and microbial mats in the saline, alkaline lakes in central B.C. part of the Pavilion Lake Research Project. The goals of this research are to understand the processes which support life in extreme environments, and the biosignatures that they leave behind. This research will contribute to our ability to interpret the geologic record of the origins and evolution of life on earth. This research is also of interest in the field of Astrobiology as understanding the origins and evolution of life on earth will provide a basis to interpret bio-signatures of life on other planets such as Mars.
Our work in Lake Untersee, Antartica has us characterizing carbon cycling and isotopic biosignatures in Antarctic endolith.
Collaboration with NASA’s BASALT project has us working to understand the creation and preservation of organic biomarkers associated with microbial communities inhabiting terrestrial volcanic terrains.