Frank Aylward, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State UniversityFrank Aylward’s website

ECIMMEE Project: Revealing the Tempo and Mode of Prokaryotic Genome Evolution in the Ocean

Bacteria and Archaea have played a central role in shaping the chemical environment of the ocean throughout the history of Earth, and they continue to drive biogeochemical cycles in marine environments. Although diverse prokaryotes can be found in seawater, roughly a dozen prominent lineages — “major clades” — play a disproportionately large role in shaping community composition and activities. Despite the importance of these clades for marine processes, we still lack a comprehensive understanding of their phylogenetic breadth, the timing of their initial diversification into the ocean, and the metabolic and ecological innovations that have allowed them to dominate oceanic microbial communities. This project aims to develop and apply novel computational pangenomic approaches to produce in-depth evolutionary genomic reconstructions of the major clades that will describe how and when these groups emerged and diversified into the ocean. These will provide “evolutionary genomic road maps” that will identify key metabolic and ecological innovations that have allowed these clades to become dominant components of the global ocean. This project will address how and why certain prokaryotic groups have evolved into keystone ecological roles, how they continue to shape global biogeochemical cycles, and how we may expect them to respond to ongoing anthropogenic disturbances.

Bio:
Frank O. Aylward is an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Virginia Tech. His research focuses on the diversity and phylogenomics of marine Bacteria and Archaea with an emphasis on understanding the ecological and evolutionary factors that shape the diversity of dominant marine lineages. He received a B.S. in biochemistry from the University of Arizona, followed by a Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His thesis work focused on understanding the community dynamics of symbiotic microbial assemblages associated with fungus-growing insects, in particular leaf-cutter ants. From there he did postdoctoral research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where his work focused on metagenomic and metatranscriptomic approaches for analyzing temporal dynamics of marine microbial communities. This work focused on disentangling the interactions and activities of diverse planktonic microbial groups in the ocean through time-course analyses performed over diel cycles. Aylward was the recipient of an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship in Ocean Sciences in 2018.

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