Marion Brodhagen , PhD
Professor · she/her
I grew up on a dairy farm in the Midwest and attended a state university similar to WWU. My first after-college job involved plant natural products. Our research lab was attempting to produce the then-famous anticancer drug, Taxol, from tissue cultures of the Pacific yew trees that produced it. One day, I asked my coworkers why the trees made this elaborate compound – did it deter insects? Did it kill wood-rotting fungi? No one knew the answer, and the conversation quickly moved on. But I was riveted, and realized I had found the question I would work on for as long as I could: what is the role of these “odd compounds”? After a couple of years, I went to graduate school to study secondary metabolites. In my master’s work, I scrutinized how certain herbivory- and competition-deterring chemicals in the leaves and roots of an invasive weed responded to environmental conditions. My PhD was about bacterial secondary metabolites that turned out to be signaling molecules used for bacterial communication. In my postdoc, I learned how fungal pathogens and their plant or animal hosts “eavesdrop” on each other’s chemical messages. Here at WWU, I continue to work on secondary metabolites. I also have kept my research focused on problems of agriculture, because of my roots on the farm. When I'm not in the classroom or the lab, you might find me out hiking in the mountains, or out dancing tango, or paddling a kayak on the waters of the Salish Sea. On a quiet winter's night, I'm usually curled up with my two cats, Midge and Rigo, reading a good book or watching Sherlock Holmes re-runs.
There are always several projects ongoing in the laboratory. Currently, all projects focus on how plants, which are silent and sessile, communicate with both mutualistic and pathogenic symbionts via chemical signals. Our lab frequently uses the fungus Aspergillus to study these interactions. We investigate how plant secondary metabolites 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).
Students interested in research opportunities (BIOL 300, BIOL 400) 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.