Devaki Bhaya wants to understand how environmental stressors, such as light, nutrients, and viral attacks are sensed by and affect photosynthetic microorganisms. She is also interested in understanding the mechanisms behind microorganism movements, and how individuals in groups communicate, evolve, share resources. To these ends, she focuses on one-celled, aquatic cyanobacteria, in the lab with model organisms and with organisms in naturally occurring communities.
Phototaxis is the ability of organisms to move directionally in response to a light source. Many cyanobacteria exhibit phototaxis, both towards and away from light. The ability to move into optimal light for photosynthesis is likely to be an advantage. Bhaya is particularly interested in how cells perceive light of different wavelengths; the photoreceptors involved, and how the molecular signals are transmitted into actions.
Science knows almost nothing about how microbial worlds communicate, evolve, share resources, or interact with other organisms. Bhaya’s recent research on speciation and evolution of thermophilic cyanobacteria in the microbial mats of hot springs in Yellowstone National Park has set the stage for a move into challenging new territory. Using pioneering methods, her group compiled full genome sequences of two dominant cyanobacteria (Synechococcus sp.) and a green, non-sulfur photosynthetic bacterium Roseiflexus sp. Her work represents the first glimpse into the complexity of microbial population to reveal a complex, integrated regulatory network. For more information see, https://dpb.carnegiescience.edu/labs/bhaya-lab