As a part of our Microbiome research interview series, we spoke with Camille Suzanne Delavaux, a Doctoral Student in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at University of Kansas. Camille received her Master of Environmental Science from Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Her interests include mycorrhizal ecology, biogeography, and anthropogenic impacts on plant-microbe interactions. She is currently working on her PhD, studying how mycorrhizal fungi influence plant invasion in the Galapagos! We interviewed Camille to discuss her research, a typical day in the lab and her hobbies.
Give us some idea about your background and how you got interested in science?
I have a Bachelor’s of Science in Environmental Science and a Bachelor’s of Arts in Spanish Language and Literature. I studied and worked abroad several times as an undergraduate; I helped build a bat echolocation call library in Ecuador, led reforestation efforts in Costa Rica and returned to Ecuador to research mycorrhizal associations, a beneficial partnership between plants and fungi, as part of an internship with an NGO. For my Master’s thesis, I investigated the impact of human-induced nutrient addition on arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and plant diversity in the Ecuadorian Andes. I think several experiences got me interested in science. I grew up in a family that fostered a love of the outdoors. I also was exposed to many different versions of the natural world through my travels. Finally, several ‘accidents’ lead to my love of the tropics, plants and the mycorrhizal fungi that live inside of most plants in the world.
- Can you give a summary of your project?
Our project, “Microbially-Mediated Plant Invasion in the Galapagos”, investigates plant-microbe interactions on the Galapagos, likely representative of oceanic islands worldwide, and how human-mediated invasion is altering these interactions. Specifically, we are looking at the differential dependency of native and invasive plants on mycorrhizal fungi, the differential effects of mycorrhizal fungi in native and invasive sites, and the potential evolution of mycorrhizal dependency in native island plant species when they co-occur with invasive species. In the end, we hope this can help better understand how co-introduction of plants and microbes impacts the native plant communities that underpin the entire fauna of the islands.
- Are you working on any other new projects in the field of microbiome research? If so can you tell us a little about these?
The other large project I am working on looks at pathogen resistance in plant populations of the same species in intact prairies versus abandoned old agricultural fields. The mycorrhizal fungi I focus on are mostly known for their transfer of nutrients to their plant host, but also help in pathogen resistance through something called ‘mycorrhizal induced resistance’. Because it has been shown that disturbed landscapes have a degraded mycorrhizal fungal community available to plants, we are isolating these distinct communities (in remnant and disturbed, old field, sites) and looking at the differential impact these communities have on two populations of a plant species originating from these two sites. The core of this work is meant to determine whether distinct mycorrhizal communities in disturbed communities lead to reduced pathogen resistance via mycorrhizal fungi.
- What is a typical day for you in the lab?
Typical days are not very typical for me. My work takes me to the field, to the greenhouse and to the lab. Most of my molecular work involves all the steps to prepare samples for the university sequencing core (DNA extraction, PCR, clean-ups, etc.). I also spend a good deal of time with bioinformatics and statistics, trying to get answers to the questions all the other work was designed to investigate. I am also currently helping to set up a fungal culturing lab. For this lab work, I talk to vendors and read into culturing protocols to determine what materials we need to get our lab started.
What do you find most interesting about your project? What is the most interesting or surprising result you have found?
I am really excited to figure out if native plants on the Galapagos are evolving to become more dependent on mycorrhizal fungi. If so, they may have a shot at survival in the face of invasion. I am also very excited to continue working with students on this project, both in Ecuador and at the University of Kansas.
- What are the important benefits of your research to science/human or animal health?
Through our project, we are ultimately trying to understand what human-mediated plant and microbe invasion into the Galapagos means for native plants and their relationships with soil microbes. Eventually, this information could help inform management of the native plants in the Galapagos Islands, as well as prevention of future introductions of plants and microbes.
- What are your hobbies?
I like to read, draw, walk and cook. I try to play the piano when I find time as well.
- What are the major challenges you face in your research with regards to sample collection, nucleic acid isolation and data analysis?
Most of my research hurdles are in obtaining permits and the transportation of samples. I’ve had to work on many permits, both in Ecuador and the US for soil, roots and seeds. My main thesis project samples several locations in a tropical system, so collecting samples and moving them to several labs is also a challenge.
- Which MO BIO or QIAGEN products do you use/have you used in the past and what did you like about the products?
I have primarily used the DNeasy PowerSoil Kit to extract root and soil DNA from environmental samples. I like that the instructions are straightforward and also adaptable to different equipment availability.
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