Dr. Janelle Thompson is an environmental microbiologist whose research and teaching activities are driven by a desire to achieve a sustainable future through careful stewardship of energy and water resources. She obtained her BS and MS from Stanford University in Biology and Environmental Engineering, respectively, and her PhD in Biological Oceanography from MIT and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. She taught undergraduate and graduate-level Environmental Engineering courses for seven years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which included development of a laboratory-based microbiology course for engineering students. She is currently a Principal Investigator and Associate Director at the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology Center for Environmental Sensing and Modeling. Her specific research projects are focused on protecting surface water quality and maintaining energy security through improved tracking and control of microbial pollutants, a better understanding of geologic carbon dioxide sequestration's microbiological footprint, and developing "green" biotechnologies for production of biofuels and bioproducts. Dr. Thompson's research is carried out through multidisciplinary collaborations, including undergraduate and graduate students, and employs the tools of modern molecular ecology, environmental genomics, and systems biology. Dr. Thompson currently resides in Singapore with her husband and daughter, and in her spare time enjoys gardening, traveling and sharing culinary adventures with her family.
How many microbes are in a sample? And more specifically, how many microbes of a particular type are present? These questions are asked in a multitude of contexts, from medical diagnostics to soil ecology. The methods available to address these questions have evolved with innovations in microscopy, cultivation, enzymology, and nucleic-acid based quantification. In this lecture we will learn about several different methods to quantify microbial groups, including their biases, challenges, and advantages. This discussion will be illustrated by examples from the field of water quality management where the abundance of specific microbial groups are used as proxies for health risks from exposure to human sewage contamination. After this lecture, participants will be able to outline several basic methods for determining the abundance of targeted microbial groups, identify appropriate methods for different contexts, and describe uncertainties associated with application of these methods.