Events & Media



"Clean insights from messy data:
understanding microbial responses to changing environments"

Sarah Bagby
Project Scientist
Department of Earth Science and Marine Science Institute
UC Santa Barbara

Thursday, May 21, 2015
11:30 - 12:30
Bren Hall 1424

Hosted by Bren School Dean Steve Gaines

Environmental scientists are often in the unenviable position of studying unforeseeable events or evolving processes in inaccessible sites, sometimes with little or no idea of what's going to turn out to be important. The resulting datasets are never perfect. What to do? How can we extract a signal from a dataset that has no baseline and can't be replicated? How can we build new datasets that permit as many different lines of inquiry as possible? First, I will discuss my work with data gathered in the federal response effort to the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Here, I have developed statistical analyses that shed light on the fate of the ~2 million barrels of oil trapped in the deep ocean, finding both where much of the oil went and how its biodegradation depends on its physical distribution. Second, I will describe the development of novel samplers to probe active microbial metabolism at natural deep-sea hydrocarbon seeps. Using these samplers, we have collected a rich library of parallel geochemical and biological samples from three seep sites over two years. The breadth of these libraries opens many lines of attack in the attempt to understand these dynamic systems---an attempt that has already uncovered an unexpected mode of microbial genetic diversification.

A project scientist at UCSB, Sarah Bagby uses computational, lab, and field methods to study the co-evolution of microbes and the Earth system: how the physical and chemical environment shapes microbial metabolic innovations, and how those innovations spread across communities and feed back into global processes. Her current research focuses on the microbial communities that metabolize hydrocarbons in the ocean; past projects have ranged from investigating the origins of life to cyanobacterial physiology in modern oceans. Dr. Bagby has studied biochemistry and philosophy at the University of Chicago, physiology at Oxford (as a Marshall Scholar), and biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she earned her PhD.

NOTE: Community colloquia are generally talks of broad interest geared toward a diverse, sophisticated audience. Their purpose is not only to enhance knowledge and understanding, but also to bring people together and promote interaction that will strengthen the community.


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