I am a Physics of Living Systems Fellow in the department of Physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I completed my Ph.D. in the Bioinformatics Program from Boston University, and my M.S. in Microbial Engineering from the University of Minnesota. I use theory and computational modeling to study how the environment constrains the evolution of metabolic networks and shapes the structure of microbial communities. Here is my CV.
Below are some thoughts and questions that motivate me in these research areas.
The origin and early evolution of the biosphere
The transition from prebiotic chemistry to a complex biochemical network capable of sustaining life on early Earth is a major unresolved enigma. It is unclear how metabolism could have originated and evolved, given the limited geochemical availability of complex biomolecules in ancient environments. The study of the history of the biosphere has been largely limited to the study of geochemical signatures in the rock record, but analysis at various scales in the biosphere suggest that a large degree of this evolutionary history might be retained in biological systems today. I am interested in “excavating” these biochemical “fossils” by integrating multi-scale network analysis, physicochemical constraints, and geochemical support for the composition of ancient biomolecules and environments, to reconstruct plausible trajectories of metabolic evolution. I am currently working on projects to model plausible paths from ancient geochemical environments to modern day metabolic networks using various metabolic modeling techniques. I am also interested in exploring how complexity and redundancy in modern metabolic networks both emerged and are retained in extant life. Here are some questions that I’m currently thinking about:
- Are there fundamental environmental or physical constraints that enable the emergence of living systems? Can we use environments that support life today to guide our understanding of these constraints?
- How did evolutionary dynamics emerge from (presumably) simpler geochemical processes?
- Are we missing evidence of any key evolutionary stages in the biochemical fossil record? If so, can we propose these ancient forms and search the extant biosphere for evidence?
Metabolism, microbes and ecosystems
I am deeply interested in how environments drive ecosystem change, and in turn how ecosystems drive environmental change. Fundamentally, these processes are critical for trying to understand how major transitions in Earth’s history occurred. I am particularly interested in using experimental systems to guide our understanding of this mutual feedback.