Lizzy Wilbanks (E.G.)

2012-09-14 18.24.01About Lizzy

I’m a PhD student in the Microbiology Graduate Group at UC Davis.  I joined the Eisen lab in Fall 2008 after graduating from Swarthmore College (BA, double major in Chemistry and Biology, 2008).  From 2008-2010, I worked primarily on projects relating to the genomics and systems biology of Haloarchaea.  After attending the MBL Microbial Diversity course, I transitioned to working full time on microbial ecology and biogeochemical (nutrient) cycling.  I’m finishing up my PhD in the summer of 2014 and starting as an Agouron postdoctoral fellow with Dr. Victoria Orphan at Caltech in September 2014.

News & Upcoming excitement

  • Aug 29 (10:00 am-12:00 pm), Invited talk on the application of long read sequencing to metagenomics @ISME15 in the Metagenomic Discoveries session
  • Awarded a Agouron postdoctoral fellowship to work with Dr. Victoria Orphan @Caltech (2014-2015)
  • Awarded a NASA postdoctoral fellowship with the NASA Astrobiology Institute to work with Dr. Victoria Orphan @Caltech (2015-2017)

Research Interests:

My interests lie in the study of microbial partnerships and visualization of biogeochemical cycling at the microbial-scale (nanometers to micrometers). Since early geological time, microbial metabolism has shaped the global ecosystem and, despite the emergence of macroscopic life, remains the engine that drives global cycling of nutrients.  Ecosystem health, be it within the human body or the global oceans, depends upon intricate food webs of interacting microbes.  However, these metabolite exchanges and microbial interactions are often invisible to traditional methods, and the chemical transformations involved remain cryptic.  Recent technological developments in culture-independent approaches have allowed us to begin eavesdropping on the metabolic conversations between these microbes.  My work integrates information from high-throughput metagenomics and systems biology with data from high-resolution analytical techniques in geochemistry (SIMS and nanoSIMS).

Large pink berries in Little Sippewissett Salt marsh.
Large pink berries in Little Sippewissett Salt marsh.

I study “pink berries”: centimeter-sized, round, pink balls of bacteria found at the sediment-water interface of intertidal pools in the Sippewissett salt marsh (Falmouth, MA). These visually striking aggregates have been studied for many years by students in the Microbial Diversity course at the Marine Biological Laboratory (Woods Hole, MA).   My work on the pink berries has revealed a previously unrecognized symbiosis between two sulfur metabolizing bacterial species.  Using nanometer scale secondary ion spectrometry (nanoSIMS), I have visualized the syntrophic sulfur cycle within the berries at nanometer spatial resolution.  Ongoing work includes more detailed characterization of the correlation between metabolic activity and the natural fractionation of sulfur isotopes, and the assembly of draft genomes for the pink berry microbes from metagenomic sequencing data. This work not only informs our understanding of nutrient cycling in the Sippewissett marsh, but also provides a tractable, limited-diversity model system for studying how microbial dynamics modulate microscale nutrient cycles.

I began my work on the pink berries during my time as a student and teaching fellow with MBL Microbial Diversity course.  I continued with this project as my dissertation research with the support of my co-advisers at UCD (Drs. Marc Facciotti and Jonathan Eisen), and a wonderful network of collaborators and mentors including Drs. Doug Nelson (UCD), Victoria Orphan (Caltech), David Fike (WUSTL), Greg Druschel (Indiana University), Dan Buckley (Cornell) and Steve Zinder (Cornell).

More About Lizzy:

I’ve always been an animal nerd, and though my academic focus has shifted away from “charismatic macrofauna”, most of my time outside the lab is spent with my wife Nell Barash, and our four cats, two dogs, turtle, snake and horses.  I’m an avid homebrewer and founding member of the Microbiology Grad Group’s Subcommittee on Eukaryotic Fermentation (a homebrewing club!).   My other interests include other outdoorsy and ocean-related things like hiking, swimming and skiing.

For more about Lizzy see:



egwilbanks AT ucdavis dot edu

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