We study how interactions between microbes influence the structure, function, and evolution of their natural communities. In particular, we are interested in how differences in these interaction networks influence community tolerance of stresses like pathogen invasion or environmental change. We use symbiosis ("different species living together") as a means to overcome the daunting complexity of most natural microbial communities, especially focusing on fungus-growing ants as a model system where the ecology and evolution of each microbial symbiont can be precisely defined and tested.
Microbial interactions are often mediated by natural products, chemicals from which most modern pharmaceuticals derive. A complementary research goal of our lab is therefore to study the diversity, ecology and evolution of microbial natural products, particularly by applying modern genome sequencing technologies to our studies of microbial diversity and chemical biology. Our research seeks to discover novel potential drug molecules and management strategies for drug resistance by understanding and exploiting the ecology and evolution of both natural products and the communities in which they function.