Katherine D. McMahon
Professor of Bacteriology, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Microbes possess extraordinarily diverse and sophisticated physiologies, communication strategies, and mechanisms of evolution. Scientists and engineers are only beginning to understand and exploit the metabolic potential of these organisms and their communities. The broad objective of my research program is to improve our capacity to predict and model microbial behavior, while searching for novel biologically mediated transformations that can be harnessed for engineering applications.
My students and I study the microbial ecology of both natural and engineered systems. We use molecular tools to investigate microbial community structure and function in lakes and activated sludge. More recently, we have been using high-frequency environmental sensor networks to measure important variables that we know influence bacterial communities. Sensor data provided through the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network (http://www.gleon.org) guides our adaptive sampling efforts and provides rich contextual data for our studies of lake bacterial community ecology. We are particularly interested in phosphorus as a nutrient driving eutrophication, and the role that bacteria play in phosphorus cycling. We are also engaged in metagenomic and post-genomic approaches to dissecting the metabolism of bacteria specialized in the sequestration of phosphorus in activated sludge. This information will ultimately lead to the construction of more predictive mechanistic and ecosystem-scale models to describe such processes as wastewater treatment and freshwater nutrient cycling.