Josué Rodríguez-Ramos is a Puerto Rican microbiome scientist and bioinformatician with experience in microbiology, computational biology, viral ecology, microbial metabolism, and biogeochemistry. He is a specialist in multi-omic analyses. We recently talked with Josué about his research. (Answers have been lightly edited.)
How did you get interested in microbiome research?
I think ever since I was an undergrad I was always “uneasy” at how much we didn’t know about the things that seemed to matter the most. I went to undergrad to be a medical microbiologist but then I took all of these biology and ecology classes. I realized people (for the most part) ignored the microbes and the things that happen at smaller scales in natural systems. Fast forward a few years and here I am finishing a PhD in Ecology, studying viral and microbial communities in natural ecosystems.
Briefly describe your project as if you were talking to your grandmother. What excites you about your current research project?
Viruses often evoke a very negative mental response, and rightly so given the current state of the world and all that has happened the last few years. But what most people don’t really know is that viruses are the most abundant entity on the planet and that there are more viruses on Earth than there are stars in the universe. The great majority of those viruses infect only bacteria and archaea (not humans) and these viruses are driving the processes that make ecosystems like oceans and rivers function. The kicker is that the fate of Earth really depends on the function of these ecosystems. When we think of things like greenhouse gases, we think about cow farts, cars, and factories…but natural systems normally contribute a lot to these greenhouse gases. Understanding what drives these processes and how they are changing is necessary for learning about what we need to do in order to decrease our environmental impacts as humans.
How does your work contribute to researchers’ understanding of the microbiome?
I take a really holistic approach to understanding microbial communities. In our lab, we use genome-resolved multi-omics and can get at big questions like “what organisms are there, what are they doing, and how do they contribute or respond to environmental variables.”
What song do you currently have on repeat?
That’s a good one. I think the answer to that is, was, and will probably be, “Nights” by Frank Ocean.
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