Lauren Seyler

Lauren is a PhD candidate in biological oceanography. She received her B.S in biological sciences with High Honors from Douglass College at Rutgers University in 2008. Before starting her PhD program in 2009, Lauren was a chief molecular biologist for Brighter Ideas, a start-up biotechnology company. Her research background is in studying the activity and metabolic capabilities of marine microbes on the New Jersey coast and in the North Atlantic Ocean. The primary research tool she uses is stable isotope probing (SIP; with 13C and 15N labels), which tracks the uptake and incorporation of organic compounds into the newly synthesized DNA of microbial populations. This allows Lauren to assess the metabolic activity of the microbial community without the need for pure culture isolation in the laboratory. SIP methods create reproducible “fingerprints” of active microbial communities under natural conditions, based on their labeled DNA. These fingerprints also can reveal how rapidly active microbes are reproducing, and how microbial activity changes over space and time. This information helps to establish the factors driving microbial diversity and evolution in the environment. Lauren’s current research focuses on the ecology of an ancient lineage of microorganisms known as archaea, in particular a group that was discovered in the deep ocean in the early 1990s. Planktonic archaea may be one of the most abundant groups of organisms on the planet. They comprise up to 50% of the marine microbial community at depths below 1,000 meters, which represent the majority of the ocean’s volume. In the ocean, archaea are thought to play an important role in the sequestration of atmospheric carbon dioxide, helping to reduce global warming. There is abundant evidence that archaea are key players in the cycling of nitrogen. The relationship between these microorganisms and the rest of the planktonic ecosystem, however, is still poorly understood. Most archaea are highly resistant to laboratory culturing; molecular techniques such as SIP and DNA sequencing are essential to study these organisms. Lauren will continue this research in France through her recently awarded Fulbright U.S. Student Grant.