Sheri Simmons Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (MBL)

My research uses a combination of manipulative experiments on microbial communities and high-throughput sequencing to interrogate the evolutionary dynamics and ecological significance of naturally occurring genetic variation. I received a Ph.D. in Biological Oceanography at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the MIT-WHOI Joint Program studying marine magnetotactic bacteria with Katrina Edwards. I moved to UC Berkeley for a postdoctoral position with Jill Banfield studying acid mine drainage microbial communities, which are a fascinating model system for the use of "omic" methods to understand microbial ecology and evolution. I started a new lab at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole in December 2009 (please see my laboratory website ), and am focusing on using new microbial model systems to understand the interaction between microbial ecology and evolution. I am based in Woods Hole, but have a faculty appointment in the Brown EEB department and can accept graduate students through the MBL-Brown Joint Program.

Research Areas

research overview

Despite the abundance and importance of microbes, we still know little about how microbial communities function. I test how ecological and evolutionary forces interact to structure these communities, using microbes found on the surface of plant leaves as a model system. With high-throughput sequencing, we track the development of complex communities over time. We also explore how interactions at small spatial scales shape larger patterns of microbial diversity.

research statement

Microbial populations display an enormous range of variation in gene content, genome structure, and sequence, but our understanding of its significance is limited. What does this variation reveal about the mechanisms governing genome evolution, and to what extent does it contribute to organismal fitness? How do ecological parameters interact with evolutionary forces such as mutation, recombination, migration, and selection in establishing patterns of variation? To what extent are patterns replicated, and which develop stochastically?

Metagenomics, which refers to the study of genomic sequence obtained from a mixed population, is a powerful tool to address these questions. It has provided significant insights into the structure and function of microbes in the environment, but to date, most metagenomic studies of microbial communities have collected snapshots of data at a particular point in space and time. The power of metagenomics as a tool to measure rates and dynamics of fundamental evolutionary processes in natural systems remains largely unexplored.

My lab uses a combination of manipulative experiments on microbial communities and high-throughput sequencing to interrogate the evolutionary dynamics and ecological significance of naturally occurring genetic variation.

Please see my laboratory website for detailed descriptions of individual projects.

funded research

Current: MBL startup funds