I grew up on a dairy farm in the midwest, and attended a state university similar to WWU. I became fascinated with secondary metabolites after college, while working with the plant natural product taxol (an anti-cancer drug). While learning more about the biology of secondary metabolites during my master's and PhD studies, I fell in love with the Pacific Northwest - even the rain. When I am not on campus, you might find me sea kayaking, hiking, dancing tango, or curled up with my cats, Midge and Rigo, watching old Sherlock Holmes shows.
There are always several projects ongoing in the laboratory. Listed below are the current main research directions for our research team. If you are interested in joining our research group, and would like to hear more about these projects or others, please contact me.
1. Natural plant products inhibiting aflatoxin production. I am fascinated by the way that plants, which are silent and sessile, interact with both mutualistic and pathogenic symbionts via chemical communication. Our lab uses the fungus Aspergillus to study these interactions. Two projects in my lab center on plant secondary metabolites that inhibit growth of the fungus Aspergillus, or inhibit its production of the potent carcinogen, aflatoxin (which frequently contaminates crops used for human food and animal feed). The first project regards terpenes found in non-host leaf tissues that prevent fungal growth and aflatoxin production. The second project is collaborative between my lab and Jeff Young’s lab (Biology). We have discovered that a branch of the phenylalanine ammonia lyase pathway is required for the native resistance of Arabidopsis seeds to Aspergillus.
2. Use of biodegradable plastics in agriculture. Degradation has historically been considered an undesirable attribute of plastic polymers, because breakdown shortens product life span and durability. Recently, awareness of the environmental problems presented by plastic waste in the natural environment has made biodegradable plastics an attractive alternative to conventional plastic materials. Although many plastic products bear the label “biodegradable” or “compostable”, in practice, degradation may be too inefficient for complete mineralization (conversion to biomass, carbon dioxide and/or methane, and water), except in specialized composting facilities. In addition to slow degradation rates, misuse of the term “biodegradable” has led to distrust of these products by consumers. Our lab studies the agricultural use of “biodegradable” plastics from a soil microbiology perspective, with a current focus on the effects of plastic fragments on the ecosystem and in particular, the soil microbiota.
Students interested in research opportunities (BIOL 395, BIOL 494) are invited to first look up our group's recent publications using PubMed or Google Scholar. Then, if the work still seems like a good match, and if you are able to commit a minimum of ten hours per week to the research, please email me with an up-to-date resume and transcripts. Please include in your letter of inquiry the reason(s) that this research is a good match for you and your career goals.
Selected Awards & Honors