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Alexandra Worden

Microbial Ecology Research Group

Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Secrets of the Seas.


Microbes are essential to the ecosystem functions that the world oceans provide to all humankind. Yet our understanding of the information encoded in their genomes is still very limited. This is a challenge for every genomic study, whether of cultured microbes in the laboratory or metagenomic studies that attempt to decipher environmental factors and microbial interactions that shape dynamics in the field. Here, we will discuss the diversity of the photosynthetic marine microbes that are key for global carbon dioxide uptake and new discoveries about their biology. We will also discuss what it is like to be an oceanographer and molecular evolutionary biologist – and some of the steps along the way!

Meet the Speaker:

Dr. Worden leads a microbial ecology research group at Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, a non-profit organization focused on the intersection of oceanographic science and technology development. She holds a B.A. in History from Wellesley College where she concentrated on post-colonial Africa, while also studying Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at M.I.T. As a NASA Earth Systems Science Fellow, Worden explored growth and mortality controls of marine cyanobacteria during her Ph.D. at University of Georgia’s Odum School of Ecology. In 2000 she became a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, there showing that tiny unicellular eukaryotes could contribute significantly to marine photosynthesis. Her research integrates across genomics, evolutionary biology and ecology to explore microbial roles in CO2 fixation and fate. Her group develops methods and technologies for systems biology and sea-going studies of unicellular eukaryotes and to quantify their contributions to global primary production and activities in the deep ocean. Her lab also studies the evolution of the land plant ancestor. An underlying principle for her research is that microbes must be studied at habitat scales relevant to their adaptive strategies to determine how their metabolism influences larger-scale ecosystem dynamics. She considers this principle essential for understanding how microbial communities and global CO2 uptake by phytoplankton will transition during climate change. Worden is an elected Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, a fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg (HWK) Institute for Advanced Study, and a Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation Marine Investigator.

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