The 2% of microbes on Earth that we can grow in the lab have led to groundbreaking discoveries, such as the vaccine for malaria, but can you imagine what the other 98% could give us?
Sara Gushgari-Doyle’s approach to cultivating difficult-to-culture microorganisms tied her for second place in the Sept. 17 finals of Berkeley Lab’s annual SLAM competition with Mariah Parker, Energy Sciences.
“Imagine what the other 98% could give us: New antibiotics that will keep us ahead of resistance. Organisms that can mineralize salt out of seawater for on-demand desalination anytime, anywhere with no energy expended. Microbes that remove dangerous pathogens from indoor air,” Gushgari-Doyle said. “The unknown 98% will shape the world around us in ways we haven’t yet begun to imagine.”
Gushgari-Doyle, who was one of two EESA postdocs represented among a dozen SLAM finalists, works in the Climate & Ecosystems Sciences Division in the Ecology Department. Sara is using computer programming and machine learning to mine the big data from real-world microbial communities to mimic those conditions back in the lab and increase that 2%.
The SLAM’s first-place prize, went to Revathi Jambunathan, Computing Sciences. The People’s Choice, the finalist that had the most votes from the audience, was Jonelle Basso, Biosciences Area. This year’s winners were chosen by a judging panel, which included Julia Hatton, Letti Light, Don Medley, Gabriela Monsalve, Horst Simon, and Lynn Yarris.