Anders Kiledal is an Assistant Research Scientist at the University of Michigan. He received his PhD from the University of Delaware, where he studied concrete colonizing microbial communities. We recently talked with Anders about his research. (Answers have been lightly edited.)
How did you get interested in microbiome research?
Two of my favorite courses in college were ecology and microbiology. As I was thinking about applying to graduate school I realized that microbiome research – or microbial ecology more specifically – would allow me to combine these interests. Technology has also generally been a draw for me, so my interest in microbiome research deepened as my research progressed and I came to more fully appreciate the importance of bioinformatics and computational analysis.
Briefly describe your project as if you were talking to your grandmother. What excites you about your current research project?
Large algae blooms happen in many bodies of water across the world. Many of these blooms aren’t actually algae, but are instead formed by bacteria that use sunlight and nutrients from the environment to grow via photosynthesis. Because of their blue/green coloration, these bacteria are called cyanobacteria. Some of these cyanobacteria blooms produce toxins that are harmful to our liver or nervous system. These blooms are particularly large in areas where there are high nutrient levels, like Lake Erie which I research, where the blooms are largely driven by excess nutrients that wash off of farmland.
What excites you about your current research project?
There are many unanswered questions about the bacteria responsible for cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms (cyanoHABs) and their interactions with other organisms and the environment that I’m excited to be able to answer with a large set of microbiome data we recently collected. I’m particularly interested in differences between Microcystis strains (closely related bacteria all from the same species)–the species primarily responsible for Lake Erie cyanoHABs which we know can have unique nutrient and environmental preferences and ability to produce compounds, including different toxins.
How does your work contribute to researchers’ understanding of the microbiome?
Although composed of individually small organisms, Earth’s microbiome can affect ecosystems in massive ways, as cyanoHABs provide a frequent reminder. My research uses microbiome data to understand processes that threaten important freshwater resources. In particular, I’m focused on genetic differences between Microcystis strains that lead to different metabolic fitness and nutrient preferences, toxin production, and interactions with other organisms, including other bacteria. In other work with collaborators from our Medical School, I use microbiome data to study the effects of graft-vs-host disease (GVHD)–a serious complication that can occur after bone marrow transplants–on the microbiome of the digestive tract. In addition to revealing causes of dysbiosis associated with GVHD, functional shifts in the microbial community could reveal potential therapeutic targets to ameliorate the effects of GVHD.
What song do you currently have on repeat?
Tropic Morning News by The National.
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