There are 3 main foci in my laboratory: biodegradation, biofiltration, and biofilms.
The biodegradation projects focus mostly on pharmaceutical and personal care products including the antimicrobial triclosan, the pain killer ibuprofen, the insect repellant DEET, and the detergent breakdown product nonylphenol. We are interested in the genetics, biochemistry, and ecology of the degradation process, but also in applying the type of knowledge we get about the mechanisms of biodegradation in useful ways, which leads to the second subject, biofiltration.
We have been working with a company out of Syracuse NY to develop inexpensive modular biofilftration units that allow us to capitalize on the biodegradation capacities of microorganisms. In this regard we have focused on styrene removal from contaminated factory air. The final area, biofilms, centers on more basic science that we hope will inform us about lifestyle that dominates biofilters and other surfaces including those of medical relevance.
Biofilms are surface attached microbes encapsulated in extracellular polymeric substances. Bacteria in these communities behave quite differently than the free-swimming organisms that have traditionally been studied by microbiologists. We are using genome-enabled technologies to look at the genes that are required by a model biofilm organism and how these genes are expressed.
Recently we have been focusing specifically on the role that genes from a defective prophage play in biofilm development.