Microorganisms and Viruses

Environmental microbes, probiotics, cancer treatment, gene/cell therapy 

The diversity of microorganisms and viruses and the complexity of their interactions and dynamics within various micro- and macro-environments are essential for a multitude of processes involved in areas as distinct as global ecosystems and human health. Empowered by advances in genomics and proteomics, cell biology, and synthetic biology, we now have the potential to significantly improve our understanding of microbes’ role in the Earth biosphere and within different ecological settings. From understanding of biological communities and their dynamic behaviors in the environment to improve soil development, water quality, and crop yields, to the harnessing of virus machinery for disease treatment and drug delivery, understanding and engineering these organisms and interactions can be exploited to address many of the critical challenges of the 21st century (climate, food, water, and health).

At Rice, groups are working to create a variety of advanced approaches to study and use microorganisms and viruses in complex environments, including:

  • understand and exploit communication and metabolism between plants and associated soil microbes to control the growth and patterns of compounds formed (Masiello, Silberg, M. Bennett, G. Bennett),
  • optimizing soil and water bioremediation techniques (Alvarez, Masiello),
  • understanding the conditions where biochar amendment has beneficial agricultural and carbon sequestration effects,
  • establishing microbial controls on the efficiency of N2O reduction to N2 within soils,
  • evaluating the robustness of programmed and native microbes within environmental materials
  • enabling microbially catalyzed release of feedstock molecules from agricultural processing facilities,
  • understanding the controls of soil organic matter processing that underlie greenhouse gas production,
  • engineer probiotics for improved health applications (Tabor), and
  • building and reprogramming viruses for disease treatment and drug delivery (Suh).