Professor, School of Biological Sciences Georgia Tech
The benefits of microorganisms (microbes) to the human condition on Earth are vast. We study microbial processes that impact Earth's biogeochemical cycles and provide ecosystem services to human beings. Microbes are the great decomposers in Earth ecosystems, breaking down dead and dying organic matter and recycling nutrients that are used by photosynthetic organisms. During the processing of organic matter, microbes release or consume greenhouse gases (CO2, CH4) that help to regulate Earth's climate. Microbes also carry out enzymatic processes such as nitrogen fixation or methanogenesis that are unique and not attainable by macrobial life. Microbes live in close association with plants or animals, creating a holobiome that benefits host health. The vast diversity of microbial functions also acts to clean up human wastes in services such as wastewater treatment or the breakdown of petroleum hydrocarbons discharged into the environment.