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,

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August 3, 2020

Palo Alto, CA— Carnegie’s Sue Rhee and Moises Exposito-Alonso are leading members of an initiative to identify genes related to stress tolerance in the mustard plant field pennycress. Theirs was one of seven biofuel research projects awarded a total of $68 million over five years by the Department of Energy. 

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing humankind and scientists from a wide variety of fields are applying their expertise to help understand and mitigate its effects. This includes plant scientists, whose work can help maintain food security in a warming climate, sequester carbon pollution from the atmosphere, and develop renewable energy

Moises Exposito-Alonso
July 14, 2020

Palo Alto, CA— Carnegie evolutionary geneticist Moises Exposito-Alonso was awarded a Max Planck Society’s Otto Hahn Medal for early career excellence. The prize is endowed with 7,500 euros.

Since 1978, the society has recognized outstanding scientific achievements among its recent Ph.D. recipients with the goal of motivating particularly talented individuals to pursue academic research careers. The 2020 award was given to six scientists in the biological and medical fields; 10 in human sciences; and 10 in the chemistry, physics, and technology sector. The recipients are nominated by the directors of the Max Planck Institutes at which they conducted their doctoral

Greenhouse in Germany where Exposito-Alonso did research.
April 10, 2020

Palo Alto, CA— Carnegie’s Moises Exposito-Alonso was selected for the Heidelberg Academy of Science’s Karl Freudenberg Prize in recognition of outstanding early career achievements in the natural sciences. The prize comes with a personal 10,000 Euro award.

Representing the German state of Baden-Württemberg, the academy honors several professors under the age of 40 with endowed prizes each year, including six in 2020. All of the recipients will give public presentations of their work, with dates to be announced. An evolutionary geneticist, Exposito-Alonso received his doctorate in 2018 from the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübigen.

Moises Exposito-Alonso
March 18, 2020

Washington, DC— Carnegie evolutionary geneticist Moises Exposito-Alonso was named a member of the 2020 class of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Europe list in science and healthcare. 

He was recognized for his lab’s pioneering use of genomic techniques to understand how plant species will evolve and keep pace with a changing climate. 

Out of the thousands of nominees, the 30 finalists in each of the 10 categories comprise “the world’s most impactful community of young entrepreneurs and game-changers,” said the publication in announcing his selection.  

“Growing up in southern Spain, I saw how Mediterranean

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Revolutionary progress in understanding plant biology is being driven through advances in DNA sequencing technology. Carnegie plant scientists have played a key role in the sequencing and genome annotation efforts of the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana and the soil alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Now that many genomes from algae to mosses and trees are publicly available, this information can be mined using bioinformatics to build models to understand gene function and ultimately for designing plants for a wide spectrum of applications.

 Carnegie researchers have pioneered a genome-wide gene association network Aranet that can assign functions

Johanna Teske became the first new staff member to join Carnegie’s newly named Earth and Planets Laboratory (EPL) in Washington, D.C., on September 1, 2020. She has been a NASA Hubble Fellow at the Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena, CA, since 2018. From 2014 to 2017 she was the Carnegie Origins Postdoctoral Fellow—a joint position between Carnegie’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (now part of EPL) and the Carnegie Observatories.

Teske is interested in the diversity in exoplanet compositions and the origins of that diversity. She uses observations to estimate exoplanet interior and atmospheric compositions, and the chemical environments of their formation

Phillip Cleves’ Ph.D. research was on determining the genetic changes that drive morphological evolution. He used the emerging model organism, the stickleback fish, to map genetic changes that control skeletal evolution. Using new genetic mapping and reverse genetic tools developed during his Ph.D., Cleves identified regulatory changes in a protein called bone morphogenetic protein 6 that were responsible for an evolved increase in tooth number in stickleback. This work illustrated how molecular changes can generate morphological novelty in vertebrates.

Cleves returned to his passion for coral research in his postdoctoral work in John Pringles’ lab at Stanford

Brittany Belin joined the Department of Embryology staff in August 2020. Her Ph.D. research involved developing new tools for in vivo imaging of actin in cell nuclei. Actin is a major structural element in eukaryotic cells—cells with a nucleus and organelles —forming contractile polymers that drive muscle contraction, the migration of immune cells to  infection sites, and the movement of signals from one part of a cell to another. Using the tools developed in her Ph.D., Belin discovered a new role for actin in aiding the repair of DNA breaks in human cells caused by carcinogens, UV light, and other mutagens.

Belin changed course for her postdoctoral work, in

Evolutionary geneticist Moises Exposito-Alonso joined the Department of Plant Biology as a staff associate in September 2019. He investigates whether and how plants will evolve to keep pace with climate change by conducting large-scale ecological and genome sequencing experiments. He also develops computational methods to derive fundamental principles of evolution, such as how fast natural populations acquire new mutations and how past climates shaped continental-scale biodiversity patterns. His goal is to use these first principles and computational approaches to forecast evolutionary outcomes of populations under climate change to anticipate potential future