A question & answer session to get to know GG Scholar Jessie Maier, 1st year graduate student in the Microbiology Program.

What aspect of genetics and/or genomics most interests you?

I am most interested in transduction, the exchange of bacterial DNA facilitated by viruses. Phage are sometimes referred to as the ‘puppet masters’ of the microbial realm due to the roles that infection and transduction play in bacterial evolution, microbiome dynamics, and bacterial genetic diversity. I find it fascinating that phage have developed unique genetic strategies and mechanisms to optimize their survival which subsequently have major impacts on entire microbiomes. 

What (or Who) influenced you to go into your field of study?

My highschool biology teacher read our class an excerpt from “The Hot Zone”, a book detailing the Ebola epidemic, and I instantly became hooked on microbiology and infectious disease. I first became passionate about wet-lab research during my first semester of college in Dr. Eric Miller’s ‘Phage Hunters’ course. From there, I joined Dr. Manuel Kleiner’s lab, started independent research, and I haven’t looked back since!

Who or what do you hope benefits from your research?

I hope that my research gets people, young and old, excited about bacteriophage! Bacteriophage are the most abundant, diverse, and deadly biological entity on our planet, yet many people have never even heard of them! Phage therapy is becoming increasingly popular for the treatment of multidrug resistant bacteria and it is therefore important that people understand the significance of these viruses.

How can your research be used to inform decision makers (e.g. policy makers, resource managers, health practitioners, K12 educators, etc etc)?

My research could be used by health professionals to better understand how phage therapy affects the environment and to which it is applied. If phage therapy is to become commonplace, it will be essential for scientists to understand how the microbiome is impacted by a phage therapy treatment. Furthermore, environmentalists could use my research to better understand how phage impact biogeochemical cycling through their actions and interactions within the viral shunt which is known for cycling organics back to lower trophic levels.

What do you think is the most pressing issue or problem in your field of study?

I think there is a general public unawareness of how much our lives are influenced and impacted in a positive manner by microbes. We wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for bacteria! I think there is alot of fear regarding microbiology given the current pandemic. This is why it is important to make sure our work is accessible and understandable to those not in our niche fields. Better public understanding of microbiology will reduce common misconceptions and the spread of misinformation.

How do you expect the GG Scholars program to impact your work?

I’m most excited to collaborate with other GG scholars, learn from their work and experiences, and improve my skill set in the fields of genetics and genomics. I have already gained so many new perspectives from my peers in GGS that have allowed me to better understand various approaches taken and beliefs held within genetics and genomics. I hope that collaborations formed within the GGA will inspire me to try new things and think differently about my own research. 

How would you describe your research interests to a 3rd grader?

Bacteriophage, or phage, are viruses that infect bacteria. Phage are everywhere and are, by far, the most abundant organism on Earth! I am interested in exploring the ways in which bacteriophage interact with other members of their microbial communities. Specifically, I want to know if there are any bacteria that can ‘prey on their predator’ and eat phage as a food source! Discovering virus-eating bacteria would change the way we think about microbiome dynamics on a global scale! 

What’s your dream job?

I have dreamed of working at the CDC with infectious disease ever since highschool. Even after having gained a passion for bacteriophage throughout my undergraduate and post-graduate research, the CDC still remains my end goal. That being said, I could never give up phage research and would therefore love to combine my interests for infectious disease and bacteriophage and do some work with phage therapy!