Daniel Sprockett

Daniel Sprockett

Daniel Sprockett is a postdoc in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University. His current research focuses on applying ecological and evolutionary theory to better understand the assembly and transmission of host-associated microbiomes. We recently talked with Daniel about his research. (Answers have been lightly edited.)

How did you get interested in microbiome research?

I worked on gene family evolution for my master’s thesis, but in a lab with a bunch of brilliant microbial ecologists who worked on soils. After graduating, I became a research assistant in a Dermatology lab, characterizing microbes that colonize chronic wounds. I was struck by the enormous differences between ecological and medical researchers – not just in vocabulary, but also in theoretical models they used to conceptualize how microbial communities function.  This is in spite of the fact that these two groups share many of the same fundamental questions! While searching for PhD labs, I wanted to find a mentor that spoke both languages and an environment that fostered that cross-pollination between fields. As a postdoc, I am continuing to bridge the gap between the basic sciences and more applied research.

Briefly describe your project as if you were talking to your grandmother.

I am interested in understanding why some microbes tend to move from person to person, and how they adapt to their new host. I’m especially interested in how microbes transmit from parents to their kids, and understanding the consequences of this intergenerational transmission for both the health of the kids in the short term, and the evolution of the microbes over longer timescales. I do this by studying human families directly, but I also look out how this process works in other animals, and in semi-natural systems like “rewilded” mice, or lab mice that are reared outdoors.

What excites you about your current research project?

One really exciting aspect of this research is the potential for using the process of microbial community assembly as a framework for better understanding the progression of common childhood diseases. 

How does your work contribute to researchers’ understanding of the microbiome?

Understanding how and why microbes move from place to place (or from person to person, or from species to species) is a fundamental question that remains largely unanswered. When you discover certain features of microbial communities that are consistent across many different contexts, it suggests there may be some sort of benefit for either the host, microbe, or both. My work contributes to a more mechanistic understanding of these relationships, and may eventually lead to new management approaches in clinical, industrial, or agricultural settings.

What song do you currently have on repeat?

Currently, it is the classic children’s song “Bananaphone” by Raffi. I love belting it out on long car trips with my kids.

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