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  • Microbiology
Kelley Gallagher (she/her), assistant professor, Department of Microbiology

Academic focus:

Bacterial development and evolution.

Research summary:

I am interested in the regulation of development and antibiotic production in bacteria. I primarily study soil-dwelling bacteria belonging to a genus called Streptomyces that grow in a very unusual way: After an initial period of filamentous growth, they will differentiate into chains of spores that are resistant to harsh environmental conditions. In order to compete with other microbes they encounter in the soil, Streptomyces bacteria produce diverse antimicrobial compounds, and historically these organisms have been our most important source of antibiotics and other natural products. The production of antibiotics by Streptomyces is tightly coordinated with their complex life cycle, and therefore the ability to fully exploit antibiotic production by these species depends on understanding how they regulate development. My key goals are to understand how the process of sporulation is regulated, examine how these regulatory pathways have evolved, and leverage this knowledge to manipulate antibiotic production.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

Outside of work, spending quality time with friends and family is always a priority for me. I also love exploring new cities and places, especially on foot.

What are three adjectives people might use to describe you?

I would hope that people might describe me as enthusiastic, inquisitive and collaborative.

What (specifically) brought you to Cornell CALS?

This is an easy one! I came to Cornell for the chance to work with fantastic colleagues in the Department of Microbiology and the wider university. I feel very lucky to get to work with an inspiring community of scientists who value fundamental studies of microbes.

What do you think is important for people to understand about your field?

The importance of fundamental research. Many of our biggest technological breakthroughs have been the unexpected result of projects aimed to better understand basic life processes. One of my favorite examples is CRISPR, which is a gene editing system that was originally discovered by scientists seeking to understand how bacteria defend themselves against viruses.

Why did you feel inspired to pursue a career in this field?

Ever since my first exposure to microbiology as a student, I have been fascinated by the vast diversity of microbes. I have pursued this profession because it gives me the opportunity to make discoveries about how these amazing organisms live, grow and interact with the environment.

What’s the most surprising/interesting thing you’ve discovered about Cornell and/or Ithaca so far?

Ithaca is absolutely stunning, and the Farmers Market lives up to the hype!

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