I have been studying microbe-metal-mineral interactions since the mid 1990s, and moved to Manchester in 2001 (from the University of Massachusetts) to set up the Geomicrobiology group. My BSc/PhD training was in microbial physiology, and I have always had a strong interest in biotechnology from my undergrad years.
I have been involved in lots of different projects over the last decade, from understanding the fundamental biology of metal reduction in the subsurface, to trying to explain how microbes control the fate of metals and radionuclides in natural and engineered systems. Other work in Manchester aims to exploit the amazing metabolic diversity of subsurface bacteria, through the optimised synthesis of nano-scale magnets, catalysts and other high value products. I really enjoy working across disciplines, and I am very lucky to have many excellent colleagues that have complementary interests and skills. I hope that our work is also useful!
I enjoy the usual stuff …. running, hiking, spending time with my family, travelling, photography, music and mucking about on our smallholding in the Peak District.
We have worked with many interesting bacteria in the group, and I try not to have favourites! A good example though is Marinobacter santoriniensis which Kim Handley isolated from a hydrothermal spring on the Greek Island of Santorini, and is unusual because of its extreme respiratory flexibility (including the ability to use arsenic as an electron donor or acceptor… which is quite unusual). What keeps me fascinated by this field though is the staggeringly large amount that we DON’T KNOW about geomicrobiological systems, and the chance to help understand more about the “silent majority”…… more than 90% of microbes in the environments that we work on are not available in pure culture and are therefore very poorly studied.
I am an environmental chemist with an interest in radioactivity and its behaviour in the environment. Before joining the Geomicro group, I did a Chemistry Undergraduate and PhD at the University of Manchester. I then escaped via a post doc in plutonium chemistry at Florida State University to Leeds University where I built up an environmental radiochemistry research group. I then joined Manchester and Geomicro in 2010. After my PhD and postdoc I realised there was more to life than just chemistry (!), and since then I have spent a significant amount of time looking at the effects of microbes, minerals and chemistry on the fate of radioactive contaminants in the environment. The research is interesting because it cuts across traditional disciplines, I have to work with a great group of clever people that do research on things as diverse as bacteria and algae through to environmental sampling of radioactive things, and advanced spectroscopic techniques such as synchrotron spectroscopy and electron microscopy.
Away from work I seem to have developed good skills in a range of board games, card games and computer games to keep my daughter happy – I also like biking and hiking and need to do them more, as well as enjoying relaxing with a glass of wine which I need to do less! I am less prone to enjoying football than many of my colleagues but hear that Macclesfield Town is the team to support but perhaps don’t believe it.
My favourite mineral is difficult to pick but the meta-stable face centred cubic form of carbon has to be a top runner as well as uraninite, which is one of the few minerals which sounds like its chemical formula, important for a chemist.
My favorite microbe – Saccharomyces cerevisiae of course! Actually, with a work hat on I suspect I have a fondness for bugs that can facilitate redox change in the environment but do you go for a metal reducer or a chemolithotrophic oxidising species or an alkaliphile…