Organisms can rapidly acclimatize to new environmental conditions. The array of biochemical tools they use and the speed of their responses are some of the most incredible phenomena in nature, which has motivated me to ask the question: Why are some organisms flourishing on our changing planet while other are doing poorly? 

To answer it, I study how biochemicals allow organisms to rapidly respond to environmental change. I focus on biochemicals such as small molecules and lipids because they are extremely diverse and drive biological functions. My ultimate goal is to understand how biochemical flexibility creates new characteristics of organisms, and how these new characteristics help organisms survive changes in their environment. Answering these questions advances our fundamental understanding of biology and is important for protecting human and planetary health.

Coral reef ecosystems are my primary study subject and I study them from the level of communities down to individuals to connect community-level biochemical diversity to individual fitness. I use a diverse suite of tools including field collections and experiments, untargeted metabolomics, biochemical assays, gene expression profiling, and machine learning. 

My ongoing and future projects include:

Communities: Mapping the distribution of biochemicals across the peak of marine species diversity and distinguishing the contributions of macrobes and microbes to biochemical diversity.

Species and Populations: Profiling the biochemical reactions that organisms are capable of carrying out to determine how they create biochemical diversity, then determining (1) how reactions vary in space and time and (2) which reaction is the most common on Earth.

Generations: Resolving how differences in the characteristics of offspring determine their environmental tolerance and figuring out whether there are universal rules for how offspring characteristics change in response to environmental change.

Engineering Communities: Uncovering the biological components required for a healthy coral reef community (large organisms, microbes, viruses, etc.) then fostering that community on artificial reefs and floating structures to conserve natural reefs and feed malnourished people

I received a Ph.D. in Marine Biology from Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) at the University of California San Diego, an M.S. in Oceanography from SIO, and a B.S. in Biology from the University of Vermont. I was a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and San Diego State University, and I am currently a Research Associate in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University.

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A healthy coral reef at Oostpunt in Curaçao (photo: Mark Vermeij)
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